Case Details


Attorney General's Statewide Investigatory Authority

Filing State



Kentucky Supreme Court




Commonwealth v. Johnson, 2014 Ky. LEXIS 87 (Ky. Feb. 20, 2014)


Attorney General had statewide invesitgatory authority (overturning lower court decision)

Case Description

Two Kentucky appellate court decisions limited the attorney general’s jurisdiction to investigate drug trafficking in a county without a request from the local prosecutor.  The Kentucky supreme court overturned those decisions. Two defendants challenged the AG’s jurisdiction to challenge drug trafficking in a county where the local prosecutor had not requested the AG’s help.  Kentucky’s statutes provide that the Attorney General has all common law powers except when modified by statute.  The court concluded that the legislature had determined that the Attorney General did not have “the common law power to investigate and prosecute cases at will” in light of Ky. Rev. Stat. §15.200, which states:(1) Whenever requested in writing by the Governor, or by any of the courts or grand juries of the Commonwealth, or upon receiving a communication from a sheriff, mayor, or majority of a city legislative body stating that his participation in a given case is desirable to effect the administration of justice and the proper enforcement of the laws of the Commonwealth, the Attorney General may intervene. . .”  There was no question about the AG’s power to prosecute, which was broad.  The Kentucky Supreme Court stated its “strong disagreement” with this decision.  The court looked at general jurisdictional statute for controlled substances violations, which provides that the various city, county and Commonwealth attorneys, “and the Attorney General, within their respective jurisdictions, shall enforce all provisions of this chapter.”  The supreme court held that this phrase meant, for the attorney general, the entire state. The supreme court also looked at other Kentucky statutes, including those that designate the attorney general as the “chief legal officer” of the state, and those that permit the attorney general to designate investigative personnel as “peace officers.” The supreme court then turned to the common law authority of the attorney general, restating its conclusion that the attorney general “should have all the powers then recognized as belonging to it, except so far as those powers were limited by statute.”  The supreme court noted that the attorney general’s office is an investigatory body, and noted that the attorney general had described an expansive role for attorneys general going back to Elizabethan England.  However, the court held, “The OAG’s investigative authority is not plenary and must comport with relevant criminal and civil statutory directives. In other words, although such investigative power may no longer be in full Elizabethan plume, it is still a feather in the Attorney General’s cap.”