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Louisville Metro appeals judge’s ruling saying it can’t jail people for local crimes

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM

The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office filed a notice of appeal Monday after a District Court judge ruled Louisville can’t create local ordinances that use jail time as a punishment.

The County Attorney’s Office is seeking to have the ruling overturned. In court filings, prosecutors argued Louisville Metro clearly has the power under state law to create misdemeanors. The issue will now go to the Circuit Court. If the city were to lose its appeal, the ruling would become binding precedent in Jefferson County, and would impact prosecutions in other ordinance violation cases.

The case at issue involves 32-year-old Albert Marshall, who police say fired a gun into the air outside his apartment after getting into an argument late last year. Marshall was charged with violating a relatively new city ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to shoot a gun within 300 feet of a public road or occupied building.

In a May 23 ruling, District Court Judge Anne Haynie wrote that only the state legislature can make crimes that carry a jail term under the Kentucky Constitution, an opinion some legal experts said is “plain wrong.” The County Attorney’s Office urged Haynie to reconsider her ruling, arguing “Metro has the clear and unambiguous power to create a crime through ordinance” under state law.

The Kentucky Legislature passed a bill in 1992 that said “a city may make the violation of any of its ordinances a misdemeanor.” And when an offense is designated a misdemeanor, “a term of imprisonment … may be imposed for the offense.”

The judge ruled late last month that the County Attorney’s Office could continue to pursue the ordinance violation charge against Marshall, but only under the threat of a civil penalty or a fine.

As a District Court judge, Haynie’s opinion only applies to this specific case. However, if a higher appeals court agrees with her ruling, it could impact Louisville’s ability to enforce other ordinances on the books.

In addition to the gun fire ordinance, other crimes created by Metro Council — such as vandalism, removing a car “boot” for traffic enforcement and evading payment of license taxes — carry the threat of jail time. Most of the time, though, violators end up paying a fine. Many ordinances that carry a possible jail term are already crimes at the state level.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.