Wednesday, December 31, 2014

County Attorneys collect $4.1 million diverting 28,468 County Traffic Safety cases

County Traffic Safety Program Authorized by Legislature
Since fiscal Year 2013, County Attorneys have had the discretion to create a County Traffic Safety Program under KRS 186.574(6):

(6) (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection, a county attorney may operate a traffic safety program for traffic offenders prior to the adjudication of the offense.
(b) Offenders alleged to have violated KRS 189A.010 or 304.39-080, offenders holding a commercial driver's license under KRS Chapter 281A, or offenders coming within the provisions of subsection (5)(b) or (c) of this section shall be excluded from participation in a county attorney-operated program.
(c) A county attorney that operates a traffic safety program:
1. May charge a reasonable fee to program participants, which shall only be used for payment of county attorney office operating expenses; and
2. Shall, by October 1 of each year, report to the Prosecutors Advisory Council the fee charged for the county attorney-operated traffic safety program and the total number of traffic offenders diverted into the county attorney-operated traffic safety program for the preceding fiscal year categorized by traffic offense.
(d) Each participant in a county attorney-operated traffic safety program shall, in addition to the fee payable to the county attorney, pay a twenty-five dollar ($25) fee to the court clerk, which shall be paid into a trust and agency account with the Administrative Office of the Courts and is to be used by the circuit clerks to hire additional deputy clerks and to enhance deputy clerk salaries.

The County Traffic Safety Program can be offered in place of the Traffic School option in KRS 186.574 (1)-(5).

$2,505,149 collected in 66 counties in FY 2013
In FY 13, there were:

  • 48,447 traffic school completions with 24% accomplished through online or DVD;
  • 18,279 cases were diverted under the county attorney created traffic safety programs
  • $2,505,149 collected
  • $456,975 going to clerks
  • $2,048,174 going to County Attorneys
  • $454,170 went to vendors
  • 66 of the 120 County Attorneys creating a traffic safety program
  • Average total fee paid per case was $137

$4,128,280 collected in 73 counties in FY 2014
In FY 14, there were

  • 28,468 cases were diverted under the county attorney created traffic safety programs
  • $4,128,280 collected
  • $711,700 going to clerks
  • $3,416,580 going to County Attorneys
  • $587,300 went to vendors
  • 73 of the 120 County Attorneys creating a traffic safety program
  • Average total fee paid per case is now $147

This means

  • another 10,000 cases are not in the system getting a court cost placed on them on top of the previous 18,000 cases 
  • the number of participating County Attorneys has increased by 7 to 73
  • the average fee has  increased to $145
  • an increase of $1.6 million collected bringing it to $4.1 million.
A summary of the FY 13 and 14 data is:

Passage of county traffic diversion, 2012’s HB 480, has resulted in substantially less funding for:
1.    General fund (49%);
2.    Kentucky Local Correctional Facilities Construction Authority under KRS 441.605 to 441.695 (10.8%);
3.    Spinal cord and head injury research trust fund (6.5%);
4.    Traumatic brain injury trust fund created in KRS 211.476 (5.5%);
5.    Circuit clerks to hire additional deputy clerks and to enhance deputy clerk salaries (5%);
6.    Department for Public Advocacy (3.5%);
7.    Crime victims' compensation fund created in KRS 346.185 (3.4%);
8.    Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to defray the costs of conducting record checks on prospective firearms purchasers pursuant to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and for the collection, testing, and storing of DNA samples (0.7%);
9.    County sheriff in the county from which the court cost was received (10.1%);
10.    Fiscal court in that county for the purposes of defraying the costs of operation of the county jail and the transportation of prisoners (5.5%).
See: KRS 42.320

And also the following under 23A.206; 23A.2065; 24A.176:
1.    $20 to local governments - for payment of expenses for operation of the local government's police department or contracted police services. All funds distributed to counties with fiscal responsibilities for jails or the transporting of prisoners shall be used for the payment of costs associated with the housing or transporting of prisoners.
2.    $5 to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for the operation of a telephonic behavioral health jail triage system as provided in KRS 210.365 and 441.048 and $5 to General Fund.

Ongoing litigation over the legality of the application of the HB 480 County Traffic Safety Program is now in the KY Supreme Court

Litigation over whether the County Traffic Safety Program is diversion, whether a County Attorney can dismiss the case or whether a Judge must dismiss the case, and whether a court cost can or must be applied to the case has worked its way to the Kentucky Supreme Court in a case out of Jefferson County District Court.

On June 25, 2013 the Chief Judge of the Jefferson District Court ruled:

  • The traffic diversion program is a “diversion” program
  • RCr 8.04 addresses pretrial diversion and requires “the approval of the trial court” for pretrial diversion
  • RCr 9.64 addresses dismissal of indictment and  requires permission of the court for dismissal of a citation
  • Once a citation is issued a case can only be dismissed by the court under RCr 8.04, RCr 9.64 and  KY Constitution Sections 27, 28, 116
  • Court costs can be assessed in diverted cases
  • Court costs must be paid on the diverted case in question
On November 18, 2013 the Jefferson Circuit Court entered an order prohibiting enforcement of the District Court’s June 25, 2013 order because KRS 24A.175(3) requires court costs only “upon conviction in a case and KRS 186.574(6) authorizes a traffic safety program “prior to the adjudication of the offense.”

On December 27, 2013 the Court of Appeals entered an order recommending transfer to the KY Supreme Court since the matter was of “great and immediate importance” because of the “potential lost revenue to the state treasury….”

Ann Bailey Smith, Chief Judge, Jefferson District v. Commonwealth of Kentucky Ex. Rel. Michael J. O'Connell and Timothy Higgins, No.  2013-SC-000828, was argued in the Kentucky Supreme Court on December 11, 2014 with David Sexton arguing for Appellee Mike O’Connell and Greg Haynes arguing for Appellant Judge Smith. The dispute now awaits decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

$3.7 million lost to court cost beneficiaries

If the 28,468 cases diverted in fiscal year 2014 had a $130 court cost applied and collected, there would have been $3,700,840 collected and distributed according to the Court Cost distribution formula set out in KRS 42.320, 23A.206, 23A.2065, and 24A.176. 

Contributed by Ed Monahan, Public Advocate