Kentucky High Court Hears Arguments on Drug Case Investigated by AG's Office, Operation UNITE
The Kentucky Supreme Court is considering a case that could have a major impact on criminal investigations in the commonwealth.
Floyd Grover Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in prison on multiple drug trafficking charges in Powell County.
But in his appeal, Floyd successfully argued that because the investigation leading to his indictment was conducted solely by uninvited law enforcement agencies outside of Powell County—including detectives from the Kentucky Attorney General's Office and officers working for Operation UNITE, an anti-drug enforcement non-profit founded by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers—then his 2009 indictment should be moot.
In oral arguments before the Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said that if Floyd's appeal is upheld, it could have severe implications for his office's ability to investigate a wide range of cases, from drug trafficking to child pornography.
"What is particularly concerning to the office of the Attorney General is to accept the ... argument would be to make the office of the Attorney General nothing more than a clerk for your local prosecutors, your local city council," Conway said. "I guess someone working at Walmart would have more investigative authority than the office of the Attorney General who’s given peace officer status.”
Floyd's attorney, Emily Holt Rhorer, maintained that Conway's office and UNITE did not obtain formal invitations, per Kentucky law, from the Powell County Commonwealth's Attorney to investigate and prosecute the case.
"Multiple layers of law enforcement are going to be unaffected by this decision," Rhorer said, citing state laws that she argues already limit the scope of attorney general's office. As a result, Rhorer continued, Floyd's right to due process was probably violated when outside parties intervened.
Justice Michelle Keller wondered what if the attorney general was never asked to intervene in a case during an entire term of office.
"That would be a good term!" Rhorer joked.
"Or an extreme waste of taxpayer money," Keller replied. "If you take that argument to its logical conclusion, they may be doing a lot of thumb-twiddling."
The court has yet to indicate a timeframe for announcing their opinion.