“Marijuana possession, dealing, and use often occurs in conjunction with more serious crimes. As such, it remains an important aspect of public safety to follow through on all leads according to the criminal laws set forth by the state. My office will continue to follow the law and exercise prosecutorial discretion in all cases that are presented to us by law enforcement.”
Jefferson Co. Prosecutor David Sutter
“Marijuana possession, dealing, and use often occurs in conjunction with more serious crimes. As such, it remains an important aspect of public safety to follow through on all leads according to the criminal laws set forth by the state. My office will continue to follow the law and exercise prosecutorial discretion in all cases that are presented to us by law enforcement.” Jefferson Co. Prosecutor David Sutter
Citing the need to focus more time on prosecuting violent offenders, the acting prosecutor in Indiana’s most populous county announced this week that his office will no longer press criminal charges against adults arrested for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.

While several states have legalized small amounts of marijuana or adopted a similar approach toward prosecution of pot offenses, marijuana remains illegal in the United States and Indiana in any amount, and Jefferson County Prosecutor David Sutter is not ready to follow the lead of Marian County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, despite also having a busy workload.

Sutter said possession of small amounts of marijuana make up very little of his workload as it is and he believes those cases should be handled individually rather than by blanket policy.

“While prosecutors have absolute discretion in making charging decisions, prosecutorial discretion is best exercised on a case-by-case basis,” Sutter said Wednesday. “Marijuana remains illegal at the Federal level and in the State of Indiana. As the elected prosecutor, I took an oath to discharge my duties according to the laws of the State of Indiana.”

Sutter noted possession of marijuana, less than 30 grams (essentially anything under one ounce) without a prior drug conviction is a Class B misdemeanor in Indiana punishable by up to 180 days in jail, but most cases never get that far. He said first-time offenders are usually offered a diversion program rather than jail time and heavy fines. The programs educate and inform offenders with the charges ultimately dropped upon completion of the program.

However, marijuana possession can be part of a bigger case involving other more serious crimes and those cases are handled differently with jail time and bigger fines, Sutter said.

“Through October 1, 2019, of the 967 total criminal cases filed by the Jefferson County Prosecutor’s Office, only 41 (4.2%) are cases where possession of marijuana was the lead charge (meaning there were no other charges of a higher magnitude included),” Sutter wrote while responding to an inquiry into his approach to prosecuting marijuana offenses. “Of those 41 cases, 10 are pending; 16 have entered guilty pleas; six have been dismissed; and nine are currently under the terms of a pre-trial diversion agreement. If a defendant successfully completes the terms of a pre-trial diversion agreement, the criminal charge(s) will be dismissed. Of the 16 guilty pleas, none received additional jail time and instead received probation or time served.”

Sutter noted that adult, first offense cases involving small amounts of marijuana most of the time carry no jail time and very little workload for the court system unless other crimes were committed.

“Simply put, marijuana is not contributing to jail overcrowding in Jefferson County. No one is in the Jefferson County Jail on cases where marijuana is the lead charge, and the defendant does not have any other pending cases,” Sutter said. “Marijuana possession, dealing, and use often occurs in conjunction with more serious crimes. As such, it remains an important aspect of public safety to follow through on all leads according to the criminal laws set forth by the state. My office will continue to follow the law and exercise prosecutorial discretion in all cases that are presented to us by law enforcement.”

Mears, who became acting prosecutor last week after the resignation of Prosecutor Terry Curry, will be challenged for the full-time position today when a Democratic caucus in Marion County decides Curry’s replacement between Mears and Tim Moriarty, who has said he also supports marijuana policy change but that more drug abuse and mental health treatment is also needed.

Mears said his decision only covers simple possession — an amount over one ounce is considered trafficking — and that about 81% of those cases are already being dismissed and that Marion County will not turn a blind eye to public consumption and cases involving other related offenses.

“We’re going to continue to prosecute individuals who use marijuana during the course of an accident or if they’re impaired for marijuana, those types of cases,” Mears said. “And also public consumption. I don’t want people to get the idea that if you walk down to the monument, people are free to light up in public. That’s not what this is about. This is about making sure that we treat everybody fairly.”

Mears also hopes state lawmakers will consider legislation to adopt his policy on marijuana charges statewide and address the issue at the enforcement level. As the law stands, police also have sworn an oath to uphold the law and cite offenders regardless of what prosecutors ultimately do regarding those charges.



(Information for this story was also gathered by The Associated Press)