Wednesday, October 19, 2016
ACKERMAN, Miss. Pulled over for traffic violations, Jessica Jauch was held for 96 days in a Mississippi jail without seeing a judge, getting a lawyer or having a chance to make bail. She was charged with a felony based on a secretly recorded video that prosecutors finally acknowledged showed her committing no crime.
Only when she finally got a hearing and a lawyer, who persuaded prosecutors to watch the video, did the case fall apart.
Many of the circuit courts in rural Mississippi sit only twice a year.
Then, the 34-year-old mother sued, alleging violations of her rights to bail, legal representation, a speedy trial and liberty. But a federal judge dismissed her case against Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford last month, ruling that because she had been indicted by a grand jury on the felony drug charge, none of her constitutional and legal rights were violated.
We have a fractured system where no one inside ever has to take responsibility.
The outcome has flummoxed civil liberties advocates who have been waging legal battles to reform Mississippi's criminal justice system, which provides almost no state funding for public defenders.
Denying someone an appearance before a judge for 96 days after arrest does not pass constitutional muster. Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country. The American Civil Liberties Union is working state by state to force increased funding for public defenders, particularly in places where court-appointed lawyers depend on stingy local governments and court fees to get paid. The ACLU also has sued in California, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah, following lawsuits elsewhere.
Pulled over for traffic offenses on April 26, 2012, Jauch was held thereafter because prosecutors relied on the word of an informant who said Jauch sold her eight Xanax pills for $40 in February 2011, according to court papers.
A Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics video showed Jauch asking to borrow the $40. But Jauch's lawyer in her federal suit, Victor Fleitas, said no one knew that because investigators and prosecutors apparently never watched the video before persuading the grand jury to charge her with selling a controlled substance. And she wasn't arraigned until the next court term in Choctaw County, three months later.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock, however, ruled that people in Jauch's situation aren't required to get a court hearing within 48 hours, and that her right to a lawyer was satisfied by the appearance of a public defender at her arraignment, 96 days after her arrest.
"Put simply, the plaintiff was arrested and held on a valid felony grand jury indictment that established the existence of probable cause," Aycock wrote. "Therefore, the Fourth Amendment is not implicated here."
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