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Prisoner Education Guide

Fifth Circuit: 96-Day Pretrial Detention Without Appearance Before Judge or Chance to Post Bail Violates Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Rights

by Matt Clarke

On October 24, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that an indicted Mississippi pre-trial detainee’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated when she was held for 96 days without appearing before a judge or having an opportunity to post bail.

Jessica Jauch was indicted for sale of a Schedule IV controlled substance based upon the word of a confidential informant. The Circuit Clerk of Choctaw County, Mississippi, issued a capias that was served on her after she was arrested for misdemeanor traffic tickets. She quickly cleared the traffic tickets. She was still held in jail, and her requests to be brought before a judge and allowed to post bail denied because Sheriff Cloyd Halford had a policy that felony arrestees be detained until the next term of the Circuit Court.

Finally, 96 days after her arrest, Jauch was appointed counsel and had bail and a trial date set. Six days later, she posted bail. Within four weeks, the prosecutor reviewed the evidence and promptly moved to dismiss the charges. It was uncontested that Jauch was innocent of the drug charges.

Jauch filed a federal civil-rights action against Sheriff Halford and Choctaw County alleging, among other claims, a Fourteenth Amendment due-process violation. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court held that the due-process issue was better analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and then dismissed the case after finding no violation of due-process rights because an indictment is a finding of probable cause for arrest. Jauch appealed.

The Fifth Circuit held that the “excessive detention, depriving Jauch of liberty without legal or due process violated [the Fourteenth] Amendment; for that reason, her motion for summary judgment should have been granted as to the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim.” The Court noted that, despite the district court’s analysis, Jauch had not raised a due-process claim under the Fourth Amendment, and such a claim would have been futile. However, the Fourth Amendment is not the only source of a pretrial detainee’s due-process rights. When a person who is legally arrested spends an inordinate amount of time in pretrial detention, the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is implicated. Jones v. City of Jackson, 203 F.3d 875 (5th Cir. 2000).

Without deciding whether substantive due-process rights were implicated, the Court held that lengthy pretrial detention without access to a magistrate or bail can violate a detainee’s procedural due-process rights. Such a lengthy delay does not have legislative backing. Rather, it conflicts with Mississippi’s legislative decree that all defendants be arraigned within 30 days of arrest. Further, the Court analyzed precedent dating as far back as 1166 in English law, noting that lengthy detention prior to being brought before a judge is historically prohibited, and, when a judge is unavailable, one simply finds another judge so justice is not delayed.

The Court stated that Sheriff Halford, the relevant policymaker, exposed the county to liability under Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), by promulgating and enforcing this unconstitutional policy. Under Monell and its progeny, municipal liability requires: (1) an official (or custom), of which (2) a policy maker can be charged with actual or construction knowledge, and (3) a constitutional violation whose “moving force” is that policy (or custom).

Sheriff Halford, the county’s relevant policy maker, “instituted a policy whereby certain arrestees were indefinitely detained without access to courts or the benefit of basic constitutional rights. This unconstitutional policy was ‘the moving force’ behind Jauch’s constitutional injury,” the Court explained. Thus, the Court concluded that under the Monell line of cases Choctaw County is liable. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. See: Jauch v. Choctaw County, 874 F.3d 425 (5th Cir. 2017). 

 

Related legal case

Jauch v. Choctaw County




 

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