Kentuckians Beware of Check Scams

With the worsening economy, an increasing number of Kentuckians are being victimized by fraudulent unsolicited business offers commonly originating outside the United States. County Attorneys throughout Kentucky are reporting an upswing in this type of activity. In one case, an elderly victim was defrauded of $1.1 million by a Canadian source before the scam was discovered and stopped.

The most common of these scams begins with the receipt of an unsolicited cashiers’ check in the mail.

According to the Better Business Bureau, “The problem occurs when a consumer deposits the counterfeit check in a bank account and, a few days later, asks the financial institution if the money is “available.” When told yes, the consumer assumes that they can safely draw upon that money. That is not the case! Until the financial institution can confirm the funds have been “finally collected”, the consumer is responsible for any funds they may withdraw against that check deposit. The amount of time it can take for the bank to finally collect the money can vary, particularly with out-of-state or out-of-country checks. “

Accompanying instructions commonly announce the victim has won a sweepstakes or other large prize and must pay a clearance fee or taxes on the winnings. The victim is instructed to deposit the check, and to in turn write a personal check for a portion of the proceeds and mail it to another address. The check sent to the victim, however, is worthless, a fact not usually discovered until the valid victim’s check has been mailed.

The best way for Kentuckians to protect themselves from these scams is to carefully evaluate the offer. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Independently verify the check is from a legitimate issuing financial institution. Don’t use the telephone number on the check; use directory assistance to acquire the official number of the financial institution to verify the check.
  • Do not use the money until your bank has collected the funds. Funds “availability” is not good enough.
  • If you have any questions about whether a transaction is legitimate, talk to your bank or credit union.

If you think you have been victimized by a scam such as this, contact your local County Attorney.

You may also contact the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at 877. 275.3342 for checks drawn on U.S. institutions.

If the check is drawn on a foreign bank, contact the United States Secret Service at 202.406.5572 or go to www.secretservice.gov.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Kentucky Appellate Courts

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

This series of articles has weaved its way through what many consider the maze of Kentucky’s judicial system. Now, at the end of the journey, it is time to discuss the appellate courts.

Most of the cases heard in district, circuit or the specialty courts receive their final decisions in those courts. However, there are some cases that warrant a review as the result of error, new evidence or a constitutional challenge. Cases that require this type of attention are heard in the appellate courts. Kentucky has two forms of appellate court: the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals hears most cases appealed from circuit court (cases either originating in circuit court or cases that originated in district court, but were later appealed in circuit court). However, the Court of Appeals does not hold trials in the traditional sense. Instead, the judges who make up the Court of Appeals review the original trial record, with attorneys presenting the legal issues to the judges for a decision. The Court of Appeals has 14 judges, two elected from each of seven appellate districts

All 14 judges do not review every case, though. The judges, who serve eight-year terms, are divided into panels of three to review and decide the cases, with the majority deciding the outcome. The panels are mobile, moving about the state to hear appeals.

The published decisions of the judges become governing case law for similar cases in the trial courts across the state.

The highest court in Kentucky, the Supreme Court, has been called the court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law.

Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court hears only cases that come to it from a lower court. Most of the time, appeals must first be heard by the Court of Appeals before coming to the Supreme Court; however, there are exceptions. Appeals involving the death penalty, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for 20 years or more bypass the Court of Appeals and go straight from circuit court to the Supreme Court. In order for an appeal from the Court of Appeals to be heard by the Supreme Court, the state’s highest court must first give its permission to hear the case. (The only exception is workers’ compensation appeals.)

Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court, with all seven justices ruling on appeals reviewed by the court. The justices serve eight-year terms and are elected from seven appellate districts across the state. The justices elect a chief justice to serve a four-year term. The chief justice serves as the administrative head of the state’s court system and is responsible for its operation.

Like the Court of Appeals, any published ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court becomes designated case law for all future similar cases in the state. In addition, the Supreme Court establishes rules of practice and procedure for all Kentucky judges and attorneys.

Kentucky’s court system—from district court to the Supreme Court—is designed to ensure justice for those who walk through its doors. Although no system is perfect, our court system sets a high standard for accuracy and fairness.

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.

Kentucky Circuit Courts

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

Many of the trials that make newspaper headlines are heard in circuit court. Each county has a circuit court, which generally has jurisdiction over felony and capital offense cases. Circuit court also hears appeals from district court and administrative agencies.

Murders, rapes, grand theft auto, arson and other more serious crimes are tried in circuit court. Circuit court also hears cases involving divorce, adoption, termination of parental rights, contested probates and wills, and land dispute title problems. Circuit court also hears civil matters involving more than $4,000.
Unlike district court (which was discussed in the previous column), circuit court can hear all types of cases unless the General Assembly has given exclusive jurisdiction for particular cases to another court. In 2006, nearly 103,000 cases were handled in circuit court throughout the state.

Circuit court juries have six to 12 members. In criminal trials, jury verdicts must be unanimous, but in civil jury trials, a three-fourths majority is sufficient to reach a verdict. Most circuit court cases are prosecuted by a commonwealth’s attorney.

Circuit judges are elected to eight-year terms. In counties with no family court, circuit judges may be assisted by master commissioners on property matters and by domestic relations commissioners on divorce and custody matters.

In many counties, family courts, a division of circuit courts, have been implemented since 2002. The next column in this series will discuss family court as well as specialty courts.

New Seat Belt Law Takes Effect

For Immediate Release
January 26, 2007

Contact: Jeff Dean
(859) 654-3180

New Seat Belt Law Takes Effect

It’s official. As of Jan. 1, police officers can cite as a primary offense motorists who are not wearing their seatbelts.

Since July 12, 2006, when the new law took effect, officers have given motorists warnings for not wearing seat belts as part of an adjustment period. Before that time, driving without a seatbelt was a secondary offense, which meant officers could cite unbelted motorists only if they had another reason for stopping the vehicle.

“Now, if an officer sees a motorists driving without a seat belt, the motorists can be pulled over and ticketed,” Pendleton County Attorney Jeff Dean said. “A primary law regarding seat belts is important because it increases seat belt usage, thus saving lives.”

A June 2000 National Occupant Protection Use Survey showed that the average seat belt use rate in primary law states was 77 percent. In secondary law states, the average use rate is only 63 percent—a 14 percent point difference.

Recent research has indicated that the new seat belt law will save lives, prevent injuries and save money.
The University of Kentucky Transportation Center estimates that at least 62 lives will be saved as a direct result of the new law. Projections also show nearly 400 fewer incapacitating spinal chord and traumatic brain injuries each year. The law is expected to prevent more than 1,000 non-incapacitating injuries as well.
Because of the reduction in injuries, the law also will save Kentucky’s Medicaid budget an estimated $40.9 million over 10 years.

The law, which passed narrowly in April 2006, also required children under 16 to wear helmets when riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The new law brought with it $11.2 million in federal funding.

Dean said the fine for not wearing a seat belt is $25.

Kentucky District Courts

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

To some, Kentucky’s court system may seem like a giant maze. They know there is a beginning and an end, but how cases flow through the system is somewhat confusing. The next four columns will discuss Kentucky’s courts and their structures.

Kentucky’s court system was transformed in 1975, making it one of the nation’s most innovative. The restructuring unified the system for both court and administration operations; it also created the Court of Justice as an independent branch of government, separate from the executive and legislative branches, and also separate from county and city governments.

In broad terms, Kentucky has two trial levels: district and circuit courts, both of which hear cases for the first time and have juries present. There also are two appellate levels: the intermediate Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, which hear cases that have already been tried in lower courts.

This column will focus on district court, which is the point of entry for most people in Kentucky’s judicial system.

District court, which is held every county in Kentucky, is the busiest of all courts. In fiscal year 2006, more than 813,000 cases were filed in district courts across Kentucky
Traffic offenses make up the majority of cases. Traffic offenses include speeding, passing stopped school bus, driving overweight trucks, failure to have liability insurance, inadequate vehicle registration, DUIs, driving recklessly, failure to stop at traffic lights and stop signs, and other driving citations.

Other cases heard in district court include drug offenses (unless the district has a drug court), theft (less than $300), cold checks (theft by deception), domestic violence, city and county ordinances violations, and Class A misdemeanors. In Class A misdemeanors, the offender may receive a fine of up to $500 and up to 12 months in jail if convicted.

In addition to adult criminal cases, juvenile matters are handled in district court, or in juvenile court, which is a division of district court. Cases involving children under age 18 are heard in this court, including delinquency, dependency, neglect and abuse, truancy, and misdemeanors and felonies. More serious felonies are heard in circuit court.

In addition to juvenile matters and criminal cases, district court hears cases in regard to small claims, guardianship, and voluntary and involuntary commitments.

With the exception of civil matters, county attorneys handle virtually all cases in district court. District judges hear all cases in district court.

District court has six-member juries. In order to render a verdict, the jury must reach a unanimous decision in criminal cases. In civil cases, a five-sixths majority is required.