Mississippi Woman Jailed 96 Days Without Attorney Has Fifth Circuit On Her Side
“The district court found this constitutionally permissible. It is not.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguably the most conservative court in the country, has ruled in favor of a woman detained in a Mississippi jail for 96 days awaiting trial and “effectively denied bail.” Last week, it overturned a lower court’s decision that holding the woman in jail was “constitutionally permissible.”
The woman at the heart of the ruling, Jessica Jauch, was indicted in January 2012 for allegedly selling eight tablets of Xanax for $40 each in Choctaw County, per a confidential informant’s account. Two warrants for her arrest were subsequently flagged for law enforcement officers throughout the county, directing them to bring her into custody. Three months later, Jauch was stopped by officers from the Starkville Police Department for alleged traffic violations, at which point they learned about the warrants. Jauch was then shuffled to the Choctaw County Jail, where she remained locked up for more than three months.
From the beginning, Jauch was informed by the local sheriff, Cloyd Halford, that she’d have to wait until August to appear before a judge, due to the court calendar. But no bail was set for her pretrial release, and she had no legal representation.
Prosecutors said there was video showing the illegal transaction, thereby verifying the informant’s account. Jauch maintained her innocence throughout her detention, and a lawyer was eventually appointed after 96 days. Bail was also set — an amount that she paid in less than a week — and Jauch’s attorney quickly realized that the evidence the prosecutor had wasn’t damning at all. The footage showed Jauch borrowing money from the friend-turned-prosecutor-informant, and weeks later, the case was dismissed altogether. The informant allegedly worked with the prosecutors in exchange for leniency in her own criminal cases.
In April 2015, almost three years to the day she was jailed, Jauch filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county and sheriff, arguing that she was denied due process. The Northern District Court of Mississippi disagreed. In September 2016, Judge Sharion Aycock said the grand indictment effectively stripped Jauch of her right to a probable cause hearing, where bail would have been set and she could have met with a judge. But last Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — which has jurisdiction over Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana — overturned that decision.
“The district court found this constitutionally permissible. It is not,” Judge Thomas Reavely wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. “A pre-trial detainee denied access to the judicial system for a prolonged period has been denied basic procedural due process, and we therefore reverse the district court’s judgment.”