Kentucky’s Two-Tier Misdemeanor Court System

Kentucky's Two-Tier Misdemeanor Court System

Kentucky has a two-tier misdemeanor court system. An appeal of right is provided from the decision of a police judge to the circuit court where all judges are lawyers, and in that court a jury trial de novo may be had. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23.032 (1971); Ky. Rule Crim. Proc. 12.06.

In Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104 (1972), the Court considered Kentucky's two-tier system there challenged on other grounds.

The Court noted:

"The right to a new trial is absolute. A defendant need not allege error in the inferior court proceeding. If he seeks a new trial, the Kentucky statutory scheme contemplates that the slate be wiped clean. Ky. Rule Crim. Proc. 12.06. Prosecution and defense begin anew. . . . The case is to be regarded exactly as if it had been brought there in the first instance." Id., at 113.

The Court went on to note that the justifications urged by States for continuing such tribunals are the "increasing burdens on state judiciaries" and the "interest of both the defendant and the State, to provide speedier and less costly adjudications" than those provided in courts "where the full range of constitutional guarantees is available . . . ." Id., at 114.