Archive for June 9th, 2006

Environmental Crimes Task Force - Third Meeting

On April 27, 2006, the Environmental Crimes Task Force conducted its third meeting. The Task Force was created to re-draft Indiana’s current environmental crimes statute (IC 13-30-6-1), which simply creates a D felony for any knowing, intentional, or reckless violation of any Indiana environmental law.

As I mentioned in my discussion on the Task Force’s first meeting last year:

The concern is that the statute is so overly broad that it could be found unconstitutional under the void for vagueness doctrine, the rule of lenity, and the fair notice requirement of due process.

In 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court in Healthscript, Inc. v. State (770 N.E.2d 810) found a Medicaid fraud statute unconstitutional on similar grounds. In fact, the environmental crimes statute would probably be considered even more broad and vague than the Medicaid statute that was overturned in Healthscript.

In fact, Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Commissioner Tom Easterly has now reported that those very issues have been raised by the defense in the Department’s two most recent attempts to prosecute environmental crimes.

The Task Force’s second meeting last year was mainly occupied with a review of Indiana criminal law for members who were not familiar with it, and a comprehensive look at other states’ environmental crimes statutes. You can read more about that meeting here.

Our third meeting was another opportunity for the Task Force to narrow down our options and take a more specific direction.

The issue of prosecutorial authority came up again at this meeting. Currently, elected prosecutors have primary jurisdiction to prosecute all criminal offenses. In some instances, other offices can provide assistance – such as Secretary of State help with securities fraud cases, and Attorney General assistance with Medicaid fraud.

Although there were some suggestions to give primary prosecutorial authority on environmental cases to some statewide office, in the end the Task Force seemed to agree that local prosecutors should retain their existing authority. We may end up recommending that attorneys or investigators from IDEM should be allowed to be deputized by local prosecutors that request their assistance in cases.

The Task Force also came to a consensus that the environmental crimes portion of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (415 ILCS 5/Tit. XII) could serve as a decent model for our work. It is drafted as a modern criminal statue – spelling out the elements of specific crimes, and differentiating between levels of intent.

However, Illinois only focuses on hazardous waste issues. We have found that most state statutes in this area are fairly limited in scope – usually addressing only one or two types of possible environmental crimes. This is probably because these statutes are usually drafted in response to some particularly outrageous incident, involving one type of crime (like toxic waste dumping).

Since we are looking at creating our statute from scratch, Indiana has the opportunity to create one of the most modern and comprehensive environmental crimes statutes in the country. Task Force member Sue Shadley suggested enumerating specific crimes in categories that correspond to existing Indiana environmental law, such as air, water, solid waste, etc. Commissioner easterly suggested possibly including a separate category for drinking water to correspond with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

My focus thus far has been in trying to make sure our statute adheres to the elements of Indiana criminal law. Unlike other states, Indiana does not have any “negligent” crimes – only those that are knowing, intentional, or reckless.

It is important that we structure the statute to conform with existing criminal law – both to encourage prosecutors to make use of the statute, and to create a clear framework for the public to understand.

The Task Force’s next meeting is scheduled for June 22, 2006. At that time we will hear feedback from Illinois officials on how they feel about enforcement of their statute. We will also begin applying the basic framework of the Illinois statute to Indiana code, and adopt more specific elements of environmental crimes.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or input on the Task Force’s progress.

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