by Douglas Ankney
A jury in Aberdeen, Mississippi, awarded Jessica Jauch $250,000 after she spent 96 days in jail without seeing a judge. Jauch was arrested on traffic charges in 2012 but was held in the Choctaw County Jail after being served with a drug indictment. While locked up, Jauch was forced to sign over her daughter’s custody rights to the child’s grandmother. Upon seeing a judge and being appointed counsel, Jauch quickly made bail. She was cleared of the drug charge after undercover video showed she did not commit any crime.
Jauch’s suit was initially dismissed by federal district Judge Sharion Aycock. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reinstated her case, calling her incarceration “unjust and unfair” and “alien to our law.” Aycock then ruled that the county and Sheriff Floyd Halford were liable before submitting the case to a jury to determine damages. After a two-day trial, the jury awarded $200,000 against Halford and $50,000 against the county. Halford claimed that the problem was that in Choctaw County the circuit court meets only twice a year. Mississippi has ongoing issues with people being jailed and then waiting months or years with little access to a lawyer or bail. Since Jauch’s arrest, the state’s Supreme Court has changed the rules of criminal procedure. Among other changes, the rules now require that anyone arrested before indictment must be brought before a judge within two business days, and anyone arrested after indictment must be arraigned within 30 days.
Daniel Griffith, the lawyer who represented Choctaw County, said Mississippi needs a statewide system of public defenders instead of the part-time defenders in most counties. But lawmakers failed to act on such a proposal put forth this year by a task force.
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