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Commonwealth v. Adams

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

October 13, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLANT
v.
DONALD G. ADAMS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM DAVIESS CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE JOSEPH W. CASTLEN, III, JUDGE ACTION NO. 95-CR-00182-001

          Marty G. Jacobs Jacobs & Pfeifer, PSC Owensboro, Kentucky BRIEF FOR APPELLEE:

          Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky John Paul Varo Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT

          BEFORE: CLAYTON, COMBS, AND D. LAMBERT, JUDGES.

          OPINION REVERSING AND REMANDING

          COMBS, JUDGE

          The Commonwealth of Kentucky appeals an order of the Daviess Circuit Court granting Donald Adams's application to vacate and expunge his four felony convictions for theft by unlawful taking, value of $300[1] or more. It argues that the circuit court acted erroneously when it determined that the four felony convictions arose from a "single incident" as contemplated by the expungement statute, KRS 431.073(1). We reverse and remand because we agree with the Commonwealth that the application to expunge was improperly granted.

         In June 1995, a Daviess County Grand Jury returned a single indictment against Adams charging him with four counts of theft by unlawful taking, value of $300 or more, a Class D felony. The charges stemmed from Adams's-either alone or in complicity with others-stealing a total of thirty-four Holstein heifers from Sunny View Farms in Daviess County on four different occasions over the course of approximately six months. Four heifers were taken in August 1994, five in September 1994, seventeen in November 1994, and eight in February 1995. In October 1996, Adams pled guilty to all four charges. He was sentenced to two-years' imprisonment, but he was granted shock probation after serving sixty-three days. He completed his probation in February 1998.

         In 2016, the General Assembly passed House Bill 40 allowing people convicted of one Class D felony -- or a series of Class D felonies arising out of the same incident -- to have their convictions expunged from public records.[2] KRS 431.073 was enacted as a result and took effect on July 15, 2016. On August 23, 2016, Adams petitioned the court to vacate and expunge his theft convictions. The Commonwealth objected, however, arguing that Adams's convictions were not eligible for expungement because they did not "arise out of a single incident" as required by KRS 431.073(1).

         A hearing was held at which Adams argued that the circuit court should grant his petition because all four theft counts were contained in one indictment, involved the same victim, and were parts of the same course of conduct. The Commonwealth articulated its objection regarding KRS 431.073(1). At the conclusion of the hearing, the court granted Adams's expungement request. In so doing, the court reasoned that there was a single victim, that the four incidents could be considered a series, and that the theft could be considered a single incident. The court subsequently entered an order granting expungement. It is from that order that the Commonwealth now appeals.

         The issue argued by the Commonwealth presents a question regarding the scope and interpretation of KRS 431.073-the felony expungement statute. Because statutory interpretation involves questions of law, "our review is de novo; and the conclusions reached by the lower courts are entitled to no deference." Commonwealth v. Love, 334 S.W.3d 92, 93 (Ky. 2011) (citations omitted).

         When faced with statutory interpretation, it is "the seminal duty of a court . . . to effectuate the intent of the legislature." Commonwealth v. Plowman, 86 S.W.3d 47, 49 (Ky. 2002) (citations omitted). "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[.]" Stephenson v. Woodward, 182 S.W.3d 162, 169-70 (Ky. 2005). "[S]tatutes must be given their literal interpretation unless they are ambiguous and if the words are not ambiguous, no statutory construction is required. We lend words of a statute their normal, ordinary, everyday meaning." Id. at 170 (citations omitted).

         The sole issue on appeal is whether the circuit court erred in finding that Adam's four theft offenses -- committed on four different days over a six-month period -- arose from a "single incident." Adams argues that the circuit court correctly found that because Adams's thefts involved only one victim, they could be considered a single incident under KRS 431.073. However, after considering the statute's plain language, we are compelled to disagree with the circuit court's expansive reading of KRS 431.073(1).

KRS 431.073(1) provides in pertinent part:
Any person who has been convicted of a Class D felony violation of [a list of statutes that includes KRS 514.030-theft by unlawful taking], or a series of Class D felony violations of one (1) or more statutes enumerated in this section arising from a single incident . . . may file with the court in ...

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