CROWN POINT — The sheriff of Lake County, Oscar Martinez Jr., wants to carry a gun again.
The county’s top cop filed a lawsuit on Wednesday asking a judge to throw out part of a new Indiana law that says people under indictment can’t carry a handgun in public.
House Enrolled Act 1296 says Hoosiers 18 and older don’t need a state permit to carry a handgun in public starting July 1. However, Martinez can’t do the same thing because he was charged with felony resisting law enforcement and a misdemeanour of reckless driving in January.
Martinez is accused of not stopping while driving an unmarked county-owned Jeep TrackHawk at 96 mph in a 45-mph zone in a “completely reckless” way on Main Street in Crown Point and Taft Street and U.S. 30 in Merrillville in September 2021 as two Crown Point police officers chased him with their lights and sirens on.
According to court records, the officers stopped chasing Martinez when he allegedly flashed the red-and-blue law enforcement light bar on the back of his car to show that it was being used for law enforcement, even though there were no emergency calls for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department at that time.
Later, around midnight, police found Martinez’s car in a handicapped parking spot at Karma Cigar. Records show that the Merrillville bar closes to the public at 11 p.m. on weekends.
The Democratic sheriff has said that he is not guilty of the charges, which could land him in jail for up to 2.5 years. Martinez would also lose his elected position as sheriff as soon as he was found guilty.
Records show that Martinez’s trial has been put off while the Indiana Court of Appeals looks into his request to have the criminal charge against him thrown out.
Indiana’s permitless-carry law says that people who are under indictment, felons, fugitives, some noncitizens, people who have been convicted of domestic violence, domestic battery, or criminal stalking, people who are under a restraining order, people who are dangerous or mentally ill, and people who have been dishonourably discharged from the military are not allowed to carry a handgun in public.
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Before, county sheriffs and other law enforcement workers didn’t have to get a permit to carry a handgun in the state. But the Indiana General Assembly, which Republicans run, got rid of that exception in March, so no adult Hoosier needs a permit to carry a handgun in public.
Martinez says in his lawsuit that the law violates his right to keep and bear arms, which the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions protect. He says this because he hasn’t been convicted of a crime and is still a law-abiding citizen with the right to be treated as innocent.
He says that Indiana and U.S. history and legal traditions don’t support a blanket ban on people under indictment for carrying handguns. He also says that Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter or a special prosecutor shouldn’t be able to threaten to file misdemeanour or felony charges against him for doing so.
The lawsuit says, “Sheriff Martinez’s rights, status, or other legal relationships are affected by unconstitutional laws that the defendants will enforce.” “Sheriff Martinez is interested in the relief he wants right now because he wants to use a constitutional right without getting in trouble.”
According to the law, Martinez and others who can’t carry a handgun publicly aren’t allowed to do so.
Before and after the permitless-carry law was passed, anyone in Indiana who could legally own a long gun or rifle, including the AR-15 and other rifles that were once considered assault weapons, could carry it in public with few restrictions.
Records show Lake Superior Judge John Sedia will be in charge of Martinez’s constitutional challenge to the law.
A hearing date has not been set.
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