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Kentucky Court of Appeals Upholds Jail Confiscating Cash and Checks to Pay Fees

On November 13, 2015, a Kentucky court of appeals held that neither a jail nor a bank acted illegally when the confiscated the checks prisoners had on them when they were booked into the jail, deposited the unendorsed checks and used some or all of the money to pay jail fees.

Former jail prisoners filed a state action against the jail that confiscated their checks and deducted fees and the bank where the checks were deposited. The court held that K.R.S. 441.265 authorizes jails to confiscate cash and checks belonging to prisoners at booking, retain the proceeds and automatically deduct required fees without the order of a sentencing court. Fees ranged from a $100 booking fee, to a $20 daily housing fee with smaller fees for "handling" and "bond." Remaining funds were placed in the prisoner's trust fund account and could be used to make jail canteen purchases.

The plaintiffs argued that endorsing, cashing and retaining proceeds from the checks without the owners' knowledge violated state law as does the bank's policy of honoring the checks. The case had been previously brought as a federal civil rights action alleging denial of due process, but the federal court had found no due process denial since the prisoners were not technically deprived of their property except for the deducted fees and they had been informed of the policy at booking.

The court found the confiscation to be lawful, but the negotiation of unendorsed checks to be a violation of the Uniform Commercial Code. It enjoined the bank from doing so in the future. Both sides appealed.

The court of appeals upheld the holding on confiscation of the checks, but reversed the holding that they were illegally deposited. In doing so, it held that K.R.S. 441.265 authorizes the confiscation and deductions for fees, the federal court's decision barred a due process challenge to the statute which did not violate due process anyway and the bank did not commit conversion by allowing the deposit of unendorsed checks as the jail was entitled to enforce the checks by reason of its statutory authority to confiscate them.

Plaintiffs' motion for class certification had also been properly denied. Therefore, the case was returned to the trail court for dismissal.

The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Gregory A. Belzley, Camille A. Brathurst and Gary S. Logsdon.

See: Cole v. Warren County, Kentucky, Ky. App., Nos. 2014-CA-000778-MR and 2014-CA-000812-MR.

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Related legal case

Cole v. Warren County, Kentucky