Kentucky Specialty Courts

This column is the third in a four-part series on Kentucky’s court system.

In the first two columns in this series, district and circuit courts were the focus. However, within district and circuit courts, there are a variety of specialty courts. Specialty courts hear cases of a particular type for efficiency purposes or in order to provide special services or attention to those cases.

Specialty courts within the district court system include small claims court and juvenile court. Family court is within the circuit court jurisdiction, although not every circuit court maintains a family court. Drug court falls within both the circuit and district court systems.

Small claims court offers a less formal and inexpensive format for people to settle disputes that involve money or personal property valued at $1,500 or less without the need for an attorney.

Juvenile court cases involve children under the age of 18. There are a variety of cases in juvenile court including, status issues, dependency cases and criminal cases. Status offenses are those that would not be considered crimes if adults committed them. Habitual truancy and running away are status offenses. Dependency cases do not involve juvenile crime, but rather, crimes against children, such as neglect and abuse. In dependency cases, children have been deprived of basic rights, including the right to adequate food, clothing and shelter. Children also are entitled to the right to be free from physical, sexual or emotional injury or exploitation; the right to develop physically, mentally and emotionally to their potential; the right to educational instruction; and the right to a secure and stable family. Criminal (delinquency) cases include children charged with misdemeanors and felonies. In jurisdictions where there is a family court, the family court will hear matters of dependency, neglected and/or abused children, as well as status offenses when no public offense is pending. All other juvenile matters remain within the jurisdiction of juvenile court.

Children charged with more serious felonies, such as rape or murder, may be transferred to circuit court to be tried as adults.

Family court, a division of circuit court, hears only cases involving families and children. For example, family court hears cases involving divorce; spousal support and equitable distribution; child support and visitation; paternity; adoption; domestic violence; dependency; neglect and abuse; termination of parental rights; and status offenses.

Drug courts, which are found within district and circuit courts, provide intensive judicial supervision of people with drug problems. Instead of immediate incarceration for drug use, drug court participants must regularly report before the judge to verify their participation and compliance in a drug rehabilitation program.

As the face of crime continues to change, our communities will see changes in the court system to deal with crime in the most efficient means possible. Specials courts are one means to do that. In fact, specialty courts have been reported to save the state considerable money because of their efficiency. In addition, the format of drug courts has been shown to reduce rearrests and reincarceration rates, thus saving the Commonwealth more than $14.5 million with the first 1,000 drug court graduates.