Local officials work to expand victims' rights 1

Grayson County Attorney Jeremy Logsdon, left, and District 18 state Rep. Samara Heavrin celebrate the passage into law of their measure that expands rights for victims of Class D felony sex crimes with a framed copy of the bill.

Thanks to the efforts of two local elected officials, the rights of victims of sex offenses were recently expanded in Kentucky.

The coordinated efforts of Grayson County Attorney Jeremy Logsdon and District 18 state Rep. Samara Heavrin (R-Leitchfield) led to the passage into law of House Bill 310 during the recent legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

According to Logsdon, the bill “fills a major gap in the law concerning the parole board’s duties to notify victims of sex offenses of their perpetrator’s parole hearing date and release.”

Logsdon said he became aware of the issue from a local mother, whose daughter had been sexually abused at age 14 after being groomed for the abuse from the age of 12.

Logsdon had prosecuted the child’s abuser during his tenure as First Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, and the case was set to go to trial, with the jury pool in attendance beginning to be seated, before the defendant decided to plead guilty. He was sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of sexual abuse in the first degree, a Class D felony.

Last July, the child’s mother contacted Logsdon in distress. Logsdon said that she often worried about the abuser’s release and believed she would be notified when he came before the parole board; however, when she checked on his incarceration status, she learned he was no longer in prison.

Logsdon determined that the perpetrator had gone before the parole board and had been released back to this community without any warning or notice to his victim or her mother.

Logsdon said that it was his prior understanding that the parole board would provide notice of such a parole hearing to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, which in turn would notify the victims involved and assist them with attending or writing a statement to be considered if they wished. However, prior to the passage of House Bill 310, the parole board was only statutorily required to notify a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office of an inmates’ potential release hearings if they had been convicted of a Class A, B, or C felony under Kentucky statute.

While there was an email notification system in place for victims of Class D felons, the mother of the abused child informed Logsdon she had never been notified about the optional email system.

“The victim and their families have a right to testify or submit letters to the parole board prior to or during the hearing by right, but with no notice (because it was a D felony), they cannot exercise that right, and without notice of the perpetrator’s release, they may find themselves face to face with their abuser at Walmart or anywhere out in public without any notice,” said Logsdon.

As Class D felonies are the most common level of felonies, encompassing tens of thousands of cases across the state each year, Logsdon said he believes this is why they were not included in the statutory notification requirement; however, the issue, as it relates to victims of sex crimes, he felt, was too important to leave up to an optional email system.

With that in mind, Logsdon, with the blessing of the victim’s mother, sent a letter to Heavrin in September of last year proposing a bill that would amend Kentucky Revised Statute 439.340, which requires the parole board to give notice of parole board hearings to Commonwealth’s Attorneys, from “any prisoner convicted of a Class A, B, or C felony” to “any prisoner convicted of a Class A, B, or C felony, or any D felony that is defined as a ‘Sex Crime’ under chapter 17.500.”

Heavrin said that, upon receiving Logsdon’s letter, she set about drafting legislation to amend KRS 439.340 through House Bill 310.

As she worked on the bill, Heavrin said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office suggested adding language that would also codify in Kentucky statute that a conviction of attempted sexual assault qualifies as sufficient to allow a victim to obtain an interpersonal protective order (IPO). Previously, a perpetrator had to complete the assault before the victim could obtain an IPO.

Heavrin, Logsdon, and a representative from the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office testified in a House Judiciary Committee meeting on behalf of the original version of House Bill 310, containing the two aforementioned pieces of legislation, on March 3.

“The bill could have failed at any moment,” said Logsdon.

According to Heavrin, after the initial committee hearing, the General Assembly had nearly arrived at the veto period for legislation with no further action taken on House Bill 310.

Concerned the bill would not make it through the full process, Heavrin, sitting on the floor of the state house one night, spoke with her colleagues about what could be done to ensure the measure passed into law.

It was at this time that she and her colleagues read a news article regarding the case of Cane Madden, an alleged repeat sexual offender who, despite being accused of raping and assaulting an 8-year-old girl and fracturing her skull with a shovel, was expected to walk free after being deemed incompetent to stand trial in March.

Previously, defendants ruled incompetent to stand trial could be involuntarily hospitalized under Kentucky law, but only if it was determined they could benefit from treatment. If it was determined they could not benefit from treatment, they would be released, even if they were determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

Upon learning of her colleagues’ efforts in the Kentucky Senate to close this loophole through Senate Bill 239, Heavrin collaborated with fellow Reps. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville), C. Ed Massey (R-Hebron), and McKenzie Cantrell (D-Louisville), as well as Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville) and Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville), to add language that would do so to House Bill 310 as an amendment.

The language amends KRS 504.110 so that in cases in which certain violent criminal defendants are ruled incompetent to stand trial with no substantial probability of attaining competency, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office serving the county of criminal prosecution may petition to have the accused involuntarily committed.

In order for this procedure to take place, a defendant must be charged with a capital offense, a Class A felony, a Class B felony resulting in death or serious physical injury, or a violation of KRS 510.040 (rape in the first degree) or KRS 510.070 (sodomy in the first degree).

With this amendment added to House Bill 310, it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee within the last two days of the legislative session before being passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear on April 1.

Legislators also included an emergency clause in the bill so it would take effect as soon as it was signed into law.

Heavrin said she is proud of the bipartisan effort that led to the bill’s passage.

“I’m not here to be a Republican or a Democrat; I’m here to do the right thing for Kentucky,” she said.

Logsdon said he also takes pride in the fact that two local officials were able to come together to address a local problem that will also correct a state-wide issue.

“Both me and Samara and any good official, no matter the capacity, should be problem solvers,” Logsdon said.

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