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Paperwork SNAFU Leaves Mentally Ill Woman Jailed in Louisiana for Eight Months

A paperwork error was blamed for a schizophrenic and bipolar woman being held in Louisiana jails for eight months even though the charges against her were dropped and she had not been appointed an attorney. Louisiana state law requires that prisoners be released if they are not appointed an attorney within 72 hours.

Melissa E. Poche, 55, was homeless when she was arrested in July 2009 on four misdemeanors. Deciding the arrest was punishment enough, the District Attorney’s office dropped the charges; the resulting paperwork, however, showed that only one charge had been dropped.

“Our intent was not to file formal charges against her,” said District Attorney Hillar Moore. “That’s what we thought we did, but apparently we didn’t.”

As a result, Poche was lost in the system. The Baton Rouge jail sent her to the East Carroll Parish jail. When that jail became overcrowded, she was sent back to Baton Rouge. Because she had no money she was unable to make bond.

Meanwhile, Poche’s family was looking for her and even filed a missing person report. They finally located her by running an Internet search that found her name on a jail population list. Their inquiries resulted in Poche being released from jail on February 24, 2010. Poche later filed a federal lawsuit over her wrongful incarceration; the case remains pending. See: Poche v. Gautreaux, U.S.D.C. (M.D. La.), Case No. 3:10-cv-00450-BAJ-CN.

“I just never dealt with anything like this in all of my life,” said Libby Poche, Melissa’s sister-in-law. “I’ve always trusted in people.”

According to the District Attorney’s office, as of February 2010 more than 100 people had been held at the East Baton Rouge Parish jail for at least six months without being formally charged.

Sources: WBRZ,

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Related legal case

Poche v. Gautreaux