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Commonwealth v. Jones

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 29, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLANT
v.
CHARLOTTE M. JONES APPELLEE

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2010-CA-002324-MR JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT NO. 92-CR-001447

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Jack Conway Attorney General Dorislee J. Gilbert Special Assistant Attorney General.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Jeffrey Skora Tricia Frances Lister.

COUNSEL FOR AMICUS CURIAE, THE KENTUCKY ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS: Larry David Simon.

OPINION

CUNNINGHAM JUSTICE

This appeal concerns the voided felony conviction of Appellee, Charlotte M. Jones. In 1992, in the Jefferson Circuit Court, Jones pled guilty to illegal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, a Class D felony. The trial court sentenced Jones to three years imprisonment, probated for five years. Jones remained free from any further criminal charges and successfully completed probation.

In 2010, Jones moved for the trial court to expunge the record of her felony conviction. The Commonwealth objected and a hearing on the matter was conducted. The trial court acknowledged that it lacked statutory authority under either KRS 431.076 or KRS 431.078 to expunge the felony conviction. Jones then moved for the trial court to void her conviction pursuant to KRS 218A.275, which the Commonwealth did not oppose. An Order Voiding Conviction was entered in the Jefferson Circuit Court on June 14, 2010.

Thereafter, Jones moved for the trial court to expunge the newly voided felony conviction. The Commonwealth opposed the motion on the grounds that neither KRS 431.076 nor KRS 431.078 provide for expungement of voided felony convictions. The Commonwealth also argued that it was necessary to maintain records of voided convictions in order to ensure that voiding of convictions was available only to first-time offenders. However, the trial court believed Jones was exceptionally deserving and utilized CR 60.02(f), which permits a court to relieve a party from its final judgment for any reason of an extraordinary nature that justifies such relief, to expunge her record.

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court's use of CR 60.02(f), but nevertheless affirmed the trial court's order of expungement. The Court of Appeals noted that KRS 431.076 does not" expressly allow for the expungement of a voided felony conviction. Even so, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Jones's voided conviction amounted to the underlying charge being dismissed with prejudice, thereby qualifying for expungement pursuant to KRS 431.076. We granted discretionary review.

Whether a felony conviction voided under KRS 218A.275 qualifies for expungement pursuant to KRS 431.076 is an issue of first impression. When faced with issues of statutory interpretation, we "must interpret the statute according to the plain meaning of the act and in accordance with the legislative intent." Commonwealth v. Plowman, 86 S.W.3d 47, 49 (Ky. 2002) (citing Commonwealth v. Montague, 23 S.W.3d 629 (Ky. 2000)). "The most logical and effective manner by which to determine the intent of the legislature is simply to analyze the plain meaning of the statutory language: '[r]esort must be had first to the words, which are decisive if they are clear.'" Stephenson v. Woodward, 182 S.W.3d 162, 169-170 (Ky. 2005) (quoting Gateway Construction Company v. Wallbaum, 356 S.W.2d 247, 249 (Ky. 1962)).

KRS 218A.275 (amended 2011) allows for the voiding of first-time possessory drug convictions. The pertinent part of the statute in effect at the time of the trial court's order states as follows:

(9) In the case of any person who has been convicted for the first time of possession of controlled substances, the court may set aside and void the conviction upon satisfactory completion of treatment, probation, or other sentence, and issue to the person a certificate to that effect. A conviction voided under this subsection shall not be deemed a first offense for purposes of this chapter or deemed a conviction for purposes of disqualification or disabilities imposed by law upon conviction of a crime. Voiding of a conviction under the subsection and dismissal may occur only once with respect to any person.

In addition, the applicable expungement statute, KRS 431.076 (amended 2013), states the following:

(1) A person who has been charged with a criminal offense and who has been found not guilty of the offense, or against whom charges have been dismissed with prejudice, and not in exchange for a guilty plea to another offense, may make a motion, in the District or Circuit Court in which the charges were filed, to expunge all records including, but not limited to, arrest records, fingerprints, photographs, index references, or other data, whether in ...

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