News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

January 5, 2014

Editorial: Stiffer penalties for abhorrent crimes

Home invasion bill deserves consideration

TERRE HAUTE — The term “home invasion” is especially distasteful because of the heinous crimes it can entail.

One’s home is supposed to be safe, secure and protective — a refuge from the often mean world around us.

A home invasion changes that balance, corrupts that safety zone, violates that privacy, destroys that trust.

Home invasion can — and often does — involve violence, sexual attack, robbery and intimidation. It can end in terrible injury, death, rape, inhumanity and other deviate conduct. Its victims are never the same again.

Such home invasions have happened sporadically in the Wabash Valley, and they have been occurring disturbingly frequently in our Capital City and its suburbs. Most recently, a mother and her daughter were beaten to death in their home in Westfield, just north of Indianapolis near Carmel. Not long before that, another mother and her daughter were beaten, robbed and sexually assaulted in one of Indianapolis’ better neighborhoods.

In both cases, men suspected of having committed those egregious crimes have been apprehended and charged. The popular sentiment is that, if found guilty, those men should be severely punished for the pain, suffering and inhumane indignity they perpetrated on their victims.

Among the hundreds of proposed laws that will be introduced in the 2014 Indiana General Assembly — which is scheduled to begin today, unless nasty weather intervenes — is a bill that would significantly increase the penalty when firearms are used to commit violent crimes.

The premise is that when criminals resort to firearms in committing any crime, they deserve more punishment.

The proponent is State Sen. Jim Merritt, a Republican from Indianapolis with more than 20 years in the state Senate, who is reflecting his constituents’ fears about home invasions — fears, he has said, that lead some to answer a knock at the door with a locked-and-loaded firearm, as is a homeowner’s right.

Under current law, Indiana courts can add five years to a sentence for someone who used a firearm while committing a crime.

That’s too little and too indefinite for Merritt. He will be pushing a bill that, if passed, would extend that additional sentence from five years to a 20-year minimum.

He also wants to change can to must — to make the additional 20 years mandatory.

That would, of course, extend well beyond home invasions to other instances of violent crime such as murder, robbery, abduction and injury.

But the recent home invasion offenses so well illustrate the need. They so offend all decent people’s sensitivities that the point is made clear that our courts need a stronger penalty, which we can only hope would be a stronger deterrent to indecent people who would so devalue human life that they would commit such crimes.

We hope Merritt’s bill gets approval from both houses of the legislature and an enthusiastic signature from Gov. Mike Pence so that its provisions can begin to give more muscle to laws against acts we all abhor.

 

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