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A new law passed this year by the General Assembly will force anyone convicted on theft charges to surrender his or her drivers license until they pay full restitution to their victims.
Creation of House Bill 369, which became effective June 25, was a collaborative effort between the state Administrative Office of the Courts, judges, circuit court clerks, the state Division of Driver Licensing and the Kentucky State Police, according to an AOC news release.
State Rep. Rick Rand (D-47th District) of Bedford and state Sen. Ernie Fletcher (R-26th District) of Crestwood both voted in favor of the bill, which was sponsored by State Rep. John Tilley (D-8th District) of Hopkinsville.
Rand said he favored the bill because it gives the court an additional tool, other than merely sending the offender to prison.
“This is another case where we tried to tighten up a law so people convicted of wrongdoing pay for the crimes in full,” Harris said. “How many people have been robbed and never got anything back?”
So far, Circuit Clerk Theresa Edwards says the law has not been put to use in Trimble County.
How the law works
Upon a defendant’s conviction of any theft-related charge, ranging from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B felony, the judge is obligated to suspension the defendant’s drivers license immediately. To reinstate the license, the defendant must pay restitution to their victims in full, according to any payment schedule set by the court.
If being unable to drive legally may hinder a defendant’s ability to make the payments, however, the law does allow for a “hardship” license that would allow driving to work, medical appointments, and substance-abuse or other counseling, says Trimble County Circuit Court Clerk Theresa Edwards.
But getting that hardship license isn’t immediate. The law states that an application cannot be filed until the defendant receives a written notice by mail from the Division of Driver Licensing that his or her license has been suspended. This could take several weeks.
Once a hardship license is granted, the defendant must adhere to the restitution payment schedule and the hours he or she is allowed to drive, Edwards said, adding that the application requires employers, doctors and educators to state the defendant’s schedule for work, appointments or classes.
“If they are found on the road any time they are not supposed to be driving, the hardship license will be suspended,” Edwards said.
Once restitution has been paid in full, the defendant may then apply for license reinstatement, Edwards said.
Though Edwards believes the law will be helpful to the victims of theft-related crime, she said she understands that taking away a drivers license creates a difficult situation for the offender.
“It’ll be a true hardship on offenders, especially in bad economic times,” she said. “Hopefully, though, it will accomplish what they [legislators] intend it to.”
The bill also increases the monetary thresholds that define theft offenses as misdemeanors or felonies. For example, previously, an offender could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property was less than $300; if above $300, it was considered a Class D felony.
The law raises that threshold to a value under $500 for a Class A misdemeanor and above $500 for a Class D felony. Theft of property valued at over $10,000 is a Class C felony, and a Class B felony if over $60,000.
Additionally, an offender will be charged with a Class D felony if the item taken is a firearm valued at less than $500.
A Class A misdemeanor carries penalties of a fine of up to $500, up to one year in jail or both.
Penalties for a Class D felony include a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and up to five years in prison or both. An individual convicted of a Class C felony could face five to 10 years in prison; a Class B felony carries a penalty of 10-20 years in prison.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ON HB 369
Q. Are the penalties of HB 369 retroactive?
A. No. The law only applies to offenses committed after the effective date of June 25. It does not apply to anyone charged with a theft crime prior to that date, even if he or she has not yet been convicted.
Q. How long is a hardship license valid?
A. The law places no time limit on the license. However, the judge in each case can allow for a repayment schedule. Once restitution is paid in full, the offender can apply to have the license reinstated.
Q. Is the suspension of an offender’s drivers license mandatory or discretionary?
A. It is mandatory. The language of the bill says “the court shall declare the defendant ineligible” to operate a motor vehicle.
Q. Can a defendant immediately apply for the hardship license?
A. No. The defendant must wait for a Notice of Suspension from the Division of Driver Licensing, which may take a few weeks. Once the written notice is received by mail, he or she may apply for a hardship license.