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$250,000 Awarded to Mississippi Woman After Being Jailed 96 Days Without Bail Hearing or Lawyer

by Dale Chappell

 A woman who spent 96 days in the Choctaw County Jail in Mississippi without being granted a lawyer or bail hearing was awarded $250,000 by a federal jury March 26, 2017, after her lawsuit was reinstated on appeal.

The federal lawsuit brought by Jessica Jauch in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi highlights the problems Mississippi has in providing those held in jail with access to lawyers and bail hearings.

At the time of Jauch’s arrest in April 2012 on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for not returning three DVD videos to a rental store, state law allowed a detention hearing before a judge only when the circuit court convened – which was just twice a year. In Jauch’s case, she had to wait until the end of July for a hearing. Meanwhile, she had to sit in jail until the hearing.

When Jauch saw the judge, the misdemeanor warrant was quickly resolved after her friend paid the late charges on the DVDs. However, she had since been handed a felony indictment for allegedly selling pain pills to a friend. After posting the $15,000 bond, Jauch was appointed a lawyer, finally, and released days later.

Meeting with the prosecutor and her lawyer, the videos that showed her supposedly selling drugs actually revealed that Jauch had simply borrowed $40 from her friend. There was no drug deal. Instead, that “friend” was an informant who lied to her police handlers and told them she bought pain pills from Jauch. The pills, it turns out, were her own. The charges against Jauch were dropped in August 2012.

Three years later, Jauch filed a federal lawsuit against the County. She claimed her 96-day detention in jail while awaiting a hearing and appointment of counsel violated her Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights, which guarantee her a prompt hearing to inform her of the charges, appointment of counsel and reasonable bail.

At first, Judge Sharion Aycock dismissed Jauch’s case. But the Court of Appeals reinstated her case in 2017 and sent it back to the district court, calling the judge’s dismissal “unjust and unfair” and “alien to our law.”

Thereafter, a jury awarded Jauch $250,000 in damages, which the County said insurance would cover. Since the ruling, Mississippi changed its rules to require a hearing within two business days for arrests and within 30 days for arrests based on indictments. See: Jauch v. Choctaw County, No. 1:15-cv-00075 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 26, 2017).

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Related legal case

Jauch v. Choctaw County