A Winchester factory worker spent 14 months locked in jail on child porn charges before prosecutors agreed to drop the case because repeated searches of his apartment and digital devices failed to turn up evidence against him.
But as David Allen Jones finally walked free, his life in ruins, the Clark County Detention Center handed him a bill for $4,008. Citing a 2000 state law, the jail demanded that Jones help pay for the cost of his incarceration.
On Wednesday, the Kentucky Supreme Court will be asked to decide if that’s constitutional. Jones is suing Clark County and its jailer, Frank Doyle, to ask that his bill be dismissed.
Jones’ lawyers call the jail’s actions “an affront to the bedrock American principle that a citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
“The government can’t punish people unless and until they are found guilty of the crimes they are alleged to have committed. Yet Kentucky counties have for years routinely kept the money they confiscate from persons on admission to their jails, allegedly to offset the costs of their confinement, after the charges against such persons have been dismissed or they have been acquitted,” Jones’ lawyers wrote in their briefs for the high court.
So far, however, the justice system has mostly ruled against Jones. Last year, the Kentucky Court of Appeals said it was proper for jails to bill prisoners for their confinement even if they are never convicted of any crime.
“The Constitution does not guarantee that only the guilty will be arrested,” U.S. District Judge Robert Wier wrote two years ago, dismissing a separate malicious prosecution lawsuit that Jones filed against Clark County, seeking damages from the episode.
That second suit has since been reinstated by a federal appeals court and is now scheduled for trial in June.
‘My reputation, it’s shot’
In October 2013, acting on a tip from Lexington police that allegedly linked Jones’ Internet Protocol address to a child sex video downloaded from the web, the Clark County Sheriff’s Department raided his home in a Winchester apartment complex and arrested him. His bond was set at $15,000, more than he could afford to pay.
But after repeated searches over coming months, police found no evidence of child porn — not in Jones’ apartment or on any of the digital devices they seized, including a cell phone, computer tablet, Xbox, server, modem, printer and DVDs.
Jones waived his right to counsel and steadfastly asserted his innocence.
Finally, prosecutors acknowledged that someone else around the large apartment complex could have accessed Jones’ wireless network, which was unsecured. With no evidence that he had possessed child porn, they dropped the charges against him. He was released from jail in December 2014.
In a deposition in one of his lawsuits, Jones later said he had to leave Winchester, his hometown, because of the publicity over his arrest. He lost his apartment, his car, his job and most of his social circle, he said.
“My reputation, it’s shot. I mean, I’ve got people that I’ve known for years won’t have anything to do with me anymore because they believe the law,” Jones said.
Cost of doing business
In billing Jones, Clark County says it’s supported by a state law that requires prisoners to help counties with the costs of their own incarceration.
The jail’s bill was based on a booking fee of $35, a $10 per diem for each day of his confinement, a $5 fee for hygiene supplies when he arrived and $2.69 for hygiene replacement supplies, the county’s lawyers told the Supreme Court in their briefs.
This isn’t punishment, the county’s lawyers added, it’s just the county’s cost of doing business.
“For their services, jailers can impose and collect fees authorized by (state law) to partially offset the costs of confinement,” the county’s lawyers wrote.
“The statute is not punitive and there is nothing illegal or inherently unfair about imposing fees for services rendered to persons in custody,” they wrote. “Neither the Kentucky Constitution, the Kentucky Revised Statutes or common law require a refund of those fees if the person is found innocent.”
‘By the sentencing court’
Over a recent five-year period, Kentucky jails reported billing nearly $20.9 million in booking and housing fees from inmates. Only half of the roughly 80 local jails appeared to charge those fees with enthusiasm, reporting sums between $50,000 and $300,000, while some jails did not claim any inmate fees. So whether an inmate is billed depends on where he happens to be incarcerated.
The Clark County jail did charge fees, with mixed success. Financial records provided to the Herald-Leader in 2020 showed that over the previous two years, the jail billed inmates $107,360 for booking and housing fees while only managing to collect $12,374.
Jones’ lawyers say the way the state law is written makes it clear that inmates like Jones, who aren’t convicted, cannot be billed for their jailhouse stays.
“A prisoner in a county jail shall be required by the sentencing court to reimburse the county for expenses incurred by reason of the prisoner’s confinement,” the law states.
But there was no sentencing court in Jones’ case because he was never tried, convicted or sentenced, his lawyers wrote. That invalidates the argument that he owes Clark County anything for his detention, they wrote.
“Confiscating and keeping the money of innocent people to offset the costs of their confinement violates the fundamentally American presumption of innocence,” Jones’ lawyers wrote.