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'Invisible' Prisoner Gets $36,200 for Wrongful Imprisonment

A Mississippi man who was improperly jailed for nearly 10 months because of a "bureaucratic snafu" was awarded just $36,200 by a federal jury in Jackson, Mississippi in October 2000.

Joseph Jones, a Jackson mechanic, was stopped by a state patrol officer in June 1994, at which time the officer discovered that Jones had an outstanding warrant for simple assault.

Jones was then held in the city jail and, while there, Hinds County authorities realized that he had never been sentenced on 1991 burglary charges. At a municipal court hearing, Jones was fined $60 for speeding and the assault charges were dismissed. That is when the trouble began.

He was returned to jail on the burglary detainer, "and then he went away," said Derek Hall, the Jackson attorney who represented Jones. Jones was improperly booked as a Jackson city inmate in the Madison County detention center, which was housing Jackson's prisoner overflow. The burglary detainer was never pursued and Madison County authorities thought Jones was being held as a city inmate on the assault charges, which had been dismissed.

Apparently Jones simply "disappeared." He had no charges in Madison County and authorities there thought he still had assault charges pending. Meanwhile, Hinds County authorities forgot about Jones because he was not in their jurisdiction. Jones subsequently spent nearly 10 months "lost" in jail.

After the five-day trial on Jones' due process claims, the jury found the city of Jackson liable for damages. But instead of returning with a $4 million verdict as Jones' lawyer requested, the jury gave him only $36,200.

"It was one of the most contested finger-pointing battles I've ever seen," said J. Lawson Nester, who represented Hinds County. "It's like being on a battle field and everyone's shooting at you from all sides."

Attorneys speculated that the relatively small award was due to the fact that Jones was not an especially sympathetic plaintiff and that the award was "simply compensation for property lost while he was in jail." See: Jones v. City of Jackson , 396CV510 LN, U.S. 5 (S.D. Miss).

Source: The National Law Journal.

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Related legal case

Jones v. City of Jackson