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Commonwealth v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Kentucky

February 20, 2014


Released for Publication March 13, 2014.

Page 719


FOR APPELLANT: Jack Conway, Attorney General of Kentucky, James Coleman Shackelford, Assistant Attorney General of Kentucky.

FOR APPELLEE: Emily Holt Rhorer, Assistant Public Advocate, Department of Public Advocacy.

FOR AMICUS CURIAE: Ian G. Sonego, Commonwealth's Attorneys Association, Robert Douglas Neace, County Attorneys Association, Vickie Lynn Wise, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Morgain Mary Sprague, Kentucky State Police, Christopher T. Cohron, Kentucky Narcotic Officers Association, Catherine S. Wright, Operation UNITE, Denise Garrison McElvein, Office of the Attorney General of Missouri.

Page 720



In 2009, Appellee, Floyd Grover Johnson, was the target of a drug investigation conducted in Powell County by investigators from the Office of the Attorney General (" OAG" ) and Operation UNITE. Operation UNITE is a task force receiving federal funds which works closely with state and local law enforcement personnel in investigating drug related crimes. In the present case, the OAG and Operation UNITE investigators used a confidential informant to conduct controlled drug buys. The Commonwealth's Attorney presented testimony from an OAG investigator to a Powell County grand jury detailing Johnson's involvement in the drug buys, as well as the video recordings documenting the transactions. No local law enforcement officer or entity participated in this specific investigation prior to initiating the grand jury proceedings.

On September 29, 2009, two indictments were returned by a Powell County grand jury charging Johnson with a total of three counts of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance (morphine and oxycodone), second offense; and one count of delivery of drug paraphernalia. Johnson moved the trial court to suppress the evidence presented against him in both cases and to dismiss the indictments. He argued that neither the OAG officers nor the Operation UNITE detectives had jurisdiction to conduct the investigation. Johnson specifically asserted that the OAG was not invited to participate in the investigation pursuant to KRS 15.200 and, thus, was without jurisdiction to conduct the investigation. Upon request by the Commonwealth's Attorney, an attorney from the Attorney General's Office of Special Prosecutions made an entry of appearance for the sole purpose of responding to Johnson's motions.

The trial court denied Johnson's motion to dismiss the indictments and concluded that the language of KRS 218A.240(1) provided the OAG with clear authority to make arrests regarding controlled substances. Accordingly, the court held that Johnson's indictments were valid. Johnson then conditionally pled guilty in both cases and was sentenced to a total of ten years imprisonment.

A unanimous Court of Appeals panel reversed the trial court's ruling. In so holding, the court reasoned that KRS 218A.240(1) did not vest the OAG with statewide investigatory jurisdiction, that KRS 15.200 was controlling, and that the directives of KRS 15.200 were not satisfied in the present case. This Court granted discretionary review. After reviewing the record and the law, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Statutory Interpretation

The Commonwealth primarily argues that the Court of Appeals erroneously interpreted KRS 218A.240(1), together with KRS 15.020 and 15.200, as limiting the OAG's jurisdiction to investigate drug crimes throughout the Commonwealth. Statutory construction is a matter of law which requires de novo review by this Court. Hearn v. Commonwealth, 80 S.W.3d 432, 434 (Ky. 2002)

Page 721

(citing Bob Hook Chevrolet Isuzu, Inc. v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, Transportation Cabinet, 983 S.W.2d 488, 45 13 Ky. L. Summary 28 (Ky. 1998)).

KRS 218A.240(1)

Our analysis begins with KRS 218A.240(1), which states in pertinent part as follows:

All police officers and deputy sheriffs directly employed full-time by state, county, city, urban-county, or consolidated local governments, the Department of Kentucky State Police, the Cabinet for Health and. Family Services, their officers and agents, and of all city, county, and Commonwealth's attorneys, and the Attorney General, within their respective jurisdictions, shall enforce all provisions of this chapter and cooperate with all agencies charged with the ...

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