Jones v. Clark County

Jones v. Clark County 635 S.W.3d 54 (KY 2021)

Issue: Whether the detention center’s policy of billing an inmate for fees accumulated during pretrial incarceration violated both the state and federal constitution when the charges against the inmate do not result in a conviction. “Whether a county jail may both retain the monies collected from a prisoner and further bill the same prisoner for the cost of his confinement after the charges against him have been dropped.” Id. at *55. 

  • Holding: Only the sentencing court, and not the county jail, is vested with the authority to order the payment of fees associated with the incarceration of a prisoner in a county jail, therefore only prisoners who have been convicted of charges can be ordered to pay fees under Kentucky statute. 

Procedural History: On November 20, 2015, David Jones filed a class action complaint in the District Court of Kentucky against both Clark County and Frank Doyle, the Clark County Jailer, seeking reimbursement of money taken out of his canteen account to pay jail fees and relief from collection of the remaining fees the County claimed he owed. Jones alleged that the Clark County Detention Center’s (CCDC’s) policy of billing for the fees accumulated during his incarceration, even though his charges were dismissed, violated both Kentucky statute and his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Constitution. The District Court dismissed the case finding that no violations of due process had occurred. Jones appealed to the Sixth Circuit, who affirmed the district court’s decision that no Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated, but declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state claims. 

On February 3, 2017, Jones filed a class action complaint against the same defendants alleging that KRS 441.265 did not permit the CCDC to bill a former prisoner for the cost of his confinement when all the charges against the prisoner had been dismissed, and that the fees violated Sections 1, 2, 10, and 17 of the Kentucky Constitution. The Clark County Circuit Court granted summary judgment to the County. Jones appealed to the Court of Appeals, who affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision. Jones appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. 

Facts:  David Jones was arrested and booked into the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC). Pursuant to KRS 441.265(2), the CCDC charged Jones a $35 booking fee, a $10 fee for his first day’s room and board, and a $5 fee for his hygiene kit. The CCDC then continued to charge Jones $10 a day for his room and board until Jones was able to post bond nearly 14 months later. Additionally, Jones was charged $2.69 for each basic hygiene supply kit he received during his confinement. During his incarceration, the CCDC automatically deducted $256.44 from Jones’ canteen account. 

When Jones was released, he owed the CCDC $4,008.85 in fees. He paid $20 towards the accumulated debt before being advised to stop paying by counsel. Eighteen months after his arrest, all the criminal charges against Jones were dismissed without prejudice. 

Court’s Reasoning: 

  • In applying the Court’s statutory interpretation, the Court determined that the statutory language of KRS 441.265 is clear and unambiguous on its face. 
    • While the statute does not explicitly say costs may be charged only against those convicted of an offense, the court pointed out that “Only the sentencing court is vested with the authority to order the payment of fees associated with incarceration of a prisoner in a county jail. The inclusion of ‘sentencing court’ implies that a criminal conviction occurred since without a conviction there would be no need for a sentencing court.” Id. at *59. 
    • “We do not dispute the jail has the right to deduct fees from a prisoner’s canteen account if the funds become available. However, any funds automatically deducted by a county jail before an order from a sentencing court must be credited to the ordered reimbursement. If, as in this case, no order from a sentencing court exists or will ever exist, the automatically deducted fees must be returned to the former prisoner.”

 The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case. You can read the full opinion here