Criminal Law


What happens if I am charged with a crime?

Arrest vs. Citation: Let’s say you are charged with a crime.  When it comes time for the police to charge you, there are 2 different methods.  First, the police could arrest you. For certain Offenses, like assault, DUI, and possession of drugs, the police often arrest.  This means that you are handcuffed and will be taken to jail immediately. Second, the police could give you a citation, instead of arresting you.  The citation will be on a piece of paper and tell you your charge(s) and give you a court date to be in front of a judge. When you are cited, you do not go to jail.

Rights: If you are arrested, the police need to read you the rights that you have, before they can question you about the crime.  These are called your Miranda rights, and it’ll sound like this: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”  You are not required to talk to the police, and you can always say you want to talk to an attorney (even if you don’t know any attorneys at the time). When you say you don’t want to talk or ask for an attorney, the police have to stop asking you questions. 

Bond: If you are arrested, you will be given a bond (sometimes called bail).  This is the money that you, or someone you know, must pay to get you out of jail.  Bond can vary from around $500 all the way to thousands of dollars. The amount of bond typically depends on how serious the crime you are being charged with is and your criminal record.  Once your bond is paid and you get out of jail, you have to follow certain conditions. For example, if you have a drug charge, you may have to do random drug tests until your criminal case is resolved.

There are five types of bonds:

  • Released on recognizance (ROR) – You do not have to pay any bond to get out of jail, the cost is $0.
  • Cash bond – You have to pay the full amount of cash for bond in order to get out of jail. For example, if your bond is $1000, then you (or someone on your behalf) must pay $1,000.
  • Partially secured bond – Instead of having to pay the full amount of the bond, the judge can allow you to only pay a percentage of the bond. For example, if your bond is $20,000, the judge could require you to only pay 10%, which would be $2,000.
  • Unsecured bond – The judge sets a bond amount, but you do not have to pay it to get out of jail. Down the road, if you do not show up for court, then you will have to pay the bond amount.
  • Property bond – This option is not used often. Instead of paying cash, you can use value of a property (like a house) and use that value to get you out of jail.  This puts a “lien” on the property. The value of the property has to be double of what your bond is. 

Did you know? Thanks to the efforts of Governor Carroll, in 1976, Kentucky because the first state to ban commercial bail bonds and bounty hunting (aka “Dog the Bounty Hunter”).  Instead of bail bond companies, Kentucky has a Pretrial Services Division. Every defendant is interviewed within 12 hours of arrest in order to fairly set bail, which is paid directly to the court. The workers are located in all 120 counties in the state and are available 24/7.

Arraignment: Your first court appearance is called your arraignment and it happens in district court.  This is where the judge will tell you what you have been charged with, and if you do not have an attorney, the judge will give you a public defender.  After your arraignment, you will likely have multiple additional court dates, as your attorney and the prosecutor try to resolve the case. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your case will stay in district court.  If you are charged with a felony, your case will go to circuit court.

FAQ: How Long Will I Stay in Jail?

It depends upon if the charge is a felony or misdemeanor. For misdemeanors, often you can post bond within a few hours of being arrested.  For more serious crimes (felonies), usually it will be at least a day, if not longer.

FAQ: What if I Miss a Court Appearance?

DON’T MISS COURT! The Judge will issue a warrant for you, which means the police or sheriff can arrest you when they find you.  You also lose any money that was paid for bond. Oftentimes, once you are arrested, the judge will keep you in jail for the remainder of time your court case is pending, which can take months.  If the judge does allow you to get out of jail, you will have to pay an even higher bond than you originally did.

Guilty Plea: A criminal case can be resolved in a few different ways—guilty plea, trial, or dismissal.  Most cases are resolved by a guilty plea. This occurs when the prosecutor makes you an offer, for example, 12 months.  You and your attorney then have time to consider the offer, and if you so choose, make a counteroffer. This can go back and forth and if you receive an offer that you are okay with, you can plead guilty. 

Jury Trial: Sometimes, both sides cannot agree on how the criminal charge is to be resolved and the case gets sent for a jury trial.  This is usually what you see in crime TV shows. A jury trial is in front of 12 jurors and the prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.  Your attorney also is allowed to present evidence to show why you should not be found guilty. At the end of the trial, the jury determines whether you are guilty or innocent. 

Dismissal: On rare occasions, the prosecutor may choose to dismiss your charges, usually because there is not enough evidence.  This means that you do not need to plead guilty or go to trial—the case is over.

Sentencing: If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, then you will be sentenced by the judge.  This is basically the punishment for your crime. One option is a fine. If you receive a fine, then you will have a few months to pay the fine.  Another option is serving time in jail. If you receive jail time, then the judge can determine whether to give you probation, or make you serve the time in jail.  Probation means that your sentence is delayed for years or months, and you will serve jail time only if you do not abide by the conditions of probation (for example, stay out of trouble, do community service, have clean drug tests).


The seriousness of a drug charge depends on the drug that you possess.  Possession can mean a variety of different things. For example, you can be charged with possession if you have drugs in your pocket.  However, you can also be charged with possession if you have drugs in your car or a backpack.

Possession of drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and oxycodone (Schedule I and II drugs) is a felony, and you can be charged with a felony.  That means that the maximum punishment is 3 years (to serve in jail or on probation) and the minimum punishment is 1 year.

Possession of drugs that are not Schedule I or II drugs is a Class A misdemeanor.  For example, if you possess Xanax (when you do not have a prescription from a doctor) is a crime.  The maximum penalty is $500 or 12 months in jail. 

Possession of marijuana is still a crime in Kentucky and is a Class B misdemeanor.  That means that the maximum penalty is a $250 fine and up to 45 days in jail.

Keep in mind that possession of drug paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, scales, rolling papers) is also a crime.  Note: you can still be charged with paraphernalia even if you do not possess drugs.  For example, if you have bongs and rolling papers, but no marijuana, you can still be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.  Possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class A misdemeanor, which means the maximum penalty is $500 or 12 months in jail.  

No Insurance | Expired Registration

Kentucky, and most other states, require vehicles driven on the roads to have current registration and insurance. Registration is essentially the license plate on the vehicle. Kentucky plates have a sticker that is placed on the plate that shows the year the registration expires. There is a sheet of paper that comes with the registration that includes the vehicle information, owner, and insurance. If you get stopped by police for speeding, you must produce this paper so the police can see the information. If your registration or insurance is expired, you will receive a ticket and must appear before a judge. Having expired registration in Kentucky is up to a $250 fine.

In addition to having up to date registration, you also need vehicle insurance.  If you are stopped by police and do not have insurance, the the fine is at least $500 and no more than $1,000, AND up to 90 days in jail. These penalties apply to BOTH the vehicle owner and the vehicle driver.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

In Kentucky, drunk driving or driving while under the influence of drugs is called Driving Under the Influence or DUI. In other states, it can be called Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).

A person (21 years old or older) who pleads guilty to a first time DUI charge can expect the following:

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI) – this offense will be charged as a misdemeanor with penalties ranging from 2 to 30 days in jail and /or a fine of $200-$500, and a driver’s license suspension.
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI) with aggravating circumstances – this offense will be charged as a Misdemeanor with penalties ranging from 4 days to 30 days in jail and /or a fine of $200-$500, and a driver’s license suspension.
    • Aggravating circumstances include: speeding 30 mph above limit, driving the wrong way on a limited access highway, causing an accident with serious injury or death, having a blood/breath alcohol content over 0.15, refusing to submit to a blood/breath/urine test, and having a child in the car under 12 years old.

If you are a driver under 21 years old the legal limit is 0.02 Blood Alcohol Content – BAC or above. This underage DUI carries a suspension from 30 days to 6 months. The fine is $100-500. Underage drivers are also required to attend mandatory alcohol or drug treatment. The underage DUI driver can also receive more serious punishment if aggravating circumstances exist such as hitting a person with their vehicle.

  • If the driver is under 18, they will have their license revoked until they turn 18 or for the normal period, whichever is longer.

If you are convicted of additional DUIs, then the punishment increases significantly.  This means that your fine is higher, you have more jail time, and your license is suspended longer.  For example, if you get a 2nd DUI, then your license is suspended for an entire year.

Besides the legal ramifications of an underage DUI, a conviction can cause issues with a person’s college and job opportunities. Some universities suspend students for breaking the law and a DUI can affect scholarships. A DUI conviction can also prevent a person from receiving certain job licenses or credentials.