Boyle courts implementing ‘rocket docket’ program

Published 8:18 am Monday, October 2, 2017

Boyle County is launching a “rocket docket” program that could help speed defendants through the court process and get them out of jail sooner.

Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean said her office, in cooperation with Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms’ office have received a $15,000 grant from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office to help cover salaries associated with implementing the program.

“We’ve gotten the OK from (Circuit Court) Judge (Darren) Peckler to implement it, so that’s very exciting,” Dean said. “It’s basically going to fast-track cases where people don’t have a significant criminal history. It should lend itself to more pre-trial diversions.”

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Boyle County actually had its first rocket docket case last week, so work on the program has already begun, Dean said. The defendant in that case will be able to appear before Peckler the first week of November to be arraigned and plead guilty at the same time, she said.

Under the regular process, that defendant might not have been able to plead guilty “until the end of the year,” Dean said.

Dean told Boyle County magistrates last week that “we’re going to start small and see how it goes.”

“We’re kind of getting together and deciding which cases would be eligible for that,” she said. “In addition, (District) Judge (Jeff) Dotson and Judge Peckler are both willing to participate in that program, which is a huge deal. It kind of brings circuit court and district court together.”

Dean said the program will allow defendants to get out of jail more quickly. And people who are going to plead guilty and serve time can become the responsibility of the state sooner, removing them from the pool of inmates for which Boyle County has to pay.

“It should cut down on jail time for folks quite a bit,” she said.

Dean said the grant funding would ideally have been enough to hire a full-time position to handle rocket docket cases exclusively. But based on the number of people incarcerated in Boyle County who could potentially benefit from the program, the county could only get $15,000. That’s not enough for a full-time position, but it is enough to supplement salaries for people in the county attorney’s office who will be doing the additional work, she said.

The grant lasts for one year, but is renewable. Other counties around the state have successfully seen their rocket docket grants renewed and enlarged after their first year, she said.

Dean said the program is a good example of many different groups working together. Law enforcement officers, defense attorneys, judges and prosecutors are all on-board and want to see the program succeed, she said.

“I think this Rocket Docket program is a nice indication of the fact that the commonwealth attorney and circuit court judge — we’re all coming together — public defender’s office and attorneys in town,” she said. “It may take a little bit but I think it’s going to make a difference.”

Dean said she and Bottoms did a “quick review” of the 30 cases brought to the last Boyle County grand jury and determined that at least 10 of those would have been rocket docket candidates. That can be extrapolated to an estimate of 120 people a year who could potentially benefit.

“Those 120 are 120 less in the Boyle County Detention Center,” she said. “If we could accomplish that, that would make a significant dent in the population out there.”