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How Does the Supreme Court of Kentucky Work?

The Kentucky Supreme Court is the highest court and the final interpreter of the State law. It was created by a 1975 constitutional amendment to function as the court of last resort in the state. The court has appellate jurisdiction over cases involving:

  • The death penalty;
  • Life imprisonment;
  • Imprisonment of at least 20 years;
  • Any other matter that proceeds from lower appellate courts

Kentucky Supreme Court decisions and orders are binding on all other courts in the state. The court sets the rules of practice and procedures for members of the legal profession in Kentucky. Additionally, the Supreme Court establishes the rules of courts and rule of evidence through two of its agencies, the Kentucky Bar Association (KBA) and the Kentucky Office of Bar Admission (KYOBA). The Supreme Court is also in charge of the Kentucky Court of Justice and Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

The Supreme Court may give rendition on cases originally owned by the appeal Courts. However, this must be done after the appeal Courts have given formal consent. In reviewing cases, the Kentucky Supreme Court may grant or deny a certiorari petition.

Under Civil procedure in the state, the Supreme Court is always open to filing any pleading or processes. The Clerk’s office is the venue for filling. However, the Clerk of the Supreme Court also receives filings via mail. Alternatively, litigants may also file electronically. Kentucky Supreme Court activities are organized into conference weeks in each calendar year. It is usually arranged for eight months in a year with the exclusion of January in most cases.

The Kentucky Supreme Court conducts trials for cases involving a death penalty, life imprisonment, and sentences of at least 20 years. In addition to this, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in most cases decided by its judges, especially for matters brought before the court from the Court of Appeal.

The Kentucky Supreme Court, although an appellate court, may decide to use the pretrial service option, instead of holding a court session. Pretrial service operates on the basis that the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to reasonable bail. In Kentucky, three out of four defendants are released earlier than the date the case was scheduled to last. Note, pretrial services are only open to individuals with minor or no criminal records. The Kentucky Supreme Court pretrial service programs include pretrial diversion and monitored conditional release programs.

The Kentucky Supreme Court comprises seven justices elected from the seven appellate districts in the state. These justices serve an eight-year term. The Kentucky Supreme Court Justices hear appeals of decisions from the lower court as a panel and issue an opinion in such cases. However, in situations where at least two justices are unavailable for a case, the Governor of Kentucky appoints special justices to sit for the case or the remaining term, based on the recommendations of the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission.

To form a quorum, at least four out of the seven justices must be present. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is elected from and by the seven Chief Justices to serve a four years term. In Kentucky, the Chief Justice is the presiding officer of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice signs court orders except when a situation allows one of the other justices to do so.

To be eligible for a judgeship position in the Kentucky Supreme Court, interested persons must be a United States citizen and a resident of Kentucky. Additionally, the person must have been residing in the relevant district for not less than two years. Candidates for the position of Kentucky Supreme Court justice must have also obtained a license to practice law in Kentucky for a minimum of eight years, and each candidate must register at the Kentucky State Secretary Office, and the registration fee is $200.00.

The election for the Supreme Court Justices in Kentucky is non-partisan. In a nonpartisan election, primaries are held to narrow the candidates to only two persons before the general election. At the general election, each candidate’s ballot box must not bear any party name or mark, to ensure that candidates are not selected based on party affiliation or commitment.

Upon completing a term, each justice may decide to contest another election to remain on the bench. Non-incumbent candidates are also qualified to run against judges serving in non-partisan elections before the filing deadline. Re-elected Judges serve another full term except for those that attain the official retirement age during the term.

The Kentucky Supreme Court allows live streaming of oral arguments during court sessions; this means that interested persons may follow a court session on TV or using a mobile phone. Alternatively, members of the public may attend proceedings at the Supreme Court in Kentucky. The Courtroom is located on the second floor of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, which also houses the justices’ office. Interested persons may visit the court location at:

Supreme Court of Kentucky

State Capitol, Room 235

700 Capital Avenue

Frankfort, KY 40601

Or Call

Phone: (502) 564–5444

Court dockets and information are accessible by interested persons in the state. The Supreme Court, through the Kentucky Court of Justice, provides an online resource that allows users to search for information. This includes information on cases, documents, the trial court, and the opinion docket.

For information on a particular case, use the case search link to access the page. Provide either the case number, title or date of filing. However, the website requires that a requester fill a registration form containing personal details like name, contact address, email, and phone number.

Interested persons may also search for court documents using text snippets; this ensures that the system narrows the possible answer to a few records. Unlike the document search, opinion docket search requires searching by date, case type, or case title. This is similar to trial court information search except that it is unnecessary to provide the date of the case and the case type here. By providing the date and case title, users can view a list of cases tried at different courts on the exact date.

The Kentucky Supreme Court also makes court minutes available to interested persons. The minutes contain detailed information about cases released each month, each having its own Supreme Court opinion attached to it. Kentucky Supreme Court opinions are the conclusions of the justices on a case. Opinions are either published or unpublished, and published opinions include a summary of the questions presented in each case. Visit the state’s website for published and unpublished opinions.

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