On May 14, 2014, the Narcotics Division of the Louisville Police Department executed a no-knock forced entry search warrant at the West Buechel residence of Richard W. Richards. They kicked in his front door. Inside, the police found Richards flushing pills down the toilet. Still, they also recovered a quantity of prescription oxycodone and hydrocodone tablets, but no prescriptions. Richards was arrested and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance and tampering with physical evidence.
The pills had been delivered to Richards that day by FedEx. Richards refused to tell the police the identity of the person who shipped the prescription pills to him.
Before the August 11, 2014 deadline, Richards filed his nominating petition to place his name to be on November’s general election ballot. Richards was running for the office of Mayor in the City of West Buechel.
On August 26, 2014, Richards entered a guilty plea for two Class D Felony counts, Case No. 14-CR-2251 in the Jefferson Circuit Court, from his May arrest. A plea bargain with the Commonwealth’s Attorney allowed Richards to enter a four-year Pretrial Diversion probation program.
September 22, 2014. Richard’s guilty plea was accepted and the plea agreement was approved by the Jefferson Circuit Court.
In the November, 2014, general election, Richards won the West Buechel Mayor’s race by ten votes. He took the Oath of Office at a ceremony in December and he then undertook the powers and duties of office on January 1, 2015 and he still holds that office.
1. Question: Can Kentucky felony probationers vote or hold public office?
The regular conditions of probation in Kentucky, known as the Conditions of Supervision, include this statement, “I understand that I have lost the right to vote and hold public office. When I become eligible I may apply for Restoration of Civil Rights.”
2. Question: Does a guilty plea count as a conviction?
Answer: Yes, once it is accepted by the court. :
Commonwealth v. Derringer, 386 SW 3d 123 – (Kentucky Supreme Court, 2012)
“Upon pleading guilty, the defendant’s “status as a ‘convicted felon’ was established” [quoting Thomas v. Commonwealth, 95 S.W.3d 828, 830 (Ky. 2003)] ” . . . a defendant is considered convicted of the offense, for certain purposes, once he enters the guilty plea”
3. Question: Does a guilty plea count as a conviction when there is a pre-trial diversion?
The Kentucky Supreme Court also stated in Thomas, “once the trial court accepted his guilty plea to the underlying felony, the appellant was a convicted felon until such time as he completed the diversion program.,” (quoted in Praither v. Commonwealth, 301 S.W.3d 20 (Kentucky Supreme Court, 2009))
4. Question: Is Richard Richards a convicted felon?
Answer: Yes, until he successfully completes the diversion probation.
If Richards successfully completes his four-year Pretrial Diversion period of supervised probation in 2018, the charges will be listed as `dismissed-diverted’ and it shall not afterwards constitute a criminal conviction. KRS 533.258(1). In the meantime, however, Kentucky law considers Richards to be a convicted felon.
5. Question: Why cannot felons hold public office in Kentucky?
Answer: Kentucky Constitution, Section 150.
“All persons shall be excluded from office who have been, or shall hereafter be, convicted of a felony, or of such high misdemeanor as may be prescribed by law, but such disability may be removed by pardon of the Governor.”
The question remains: How, as a convicted felon and self-confessed drug dealer, can Richard W. Richards legally serve as Mayor of West Buechel?
6. Question: Has Richard Richards’ rights been restored by the Governor?
Richards is not eligible to have his civil right restored while he is still on probation, and under Kentucky’s diversion statute, his rights will resume automatically if he successfully completes the program.
7. Question: Why is Richard Richards, a convicted felon, Mayor of West Buechel?
Answer: Next time.
There’s more to this story.