Mississippi woman appeals dismissal of suit over jail stay

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2016 8:19 PM
Mississippi woman appeals dismissal of suit over jail stay

A Mississippi woman is appealing a federal judge's decision that being jailed for 96 days without seeing a judge didn't violate her constitutional rights.

A lawyer for Jessica Jauch filed notice in federal court in Aberdeen, Mississippi, this week that she would appeal U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock's dismissal of a lawsuit against Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would next hear Jauch's case.

Jauch and her lawyer, Victor Fleitas, have not responded to several requests for comment from The Associated Press, which first publicly detailed her story Wednesday.

The 34-year-old mother was jailed in Choctaw County in April 2012 after being indicted when a confidential informant told police Jauch had sold her eight Xanax pills, according to court records. A police video, though, only showed her borrowing $40 from the informant. Jauch was cleared in August when she finally obtained a lawyer who persuaded a prosecutor to watch the video and drop the charge.

Aycock ruled that because Jauch had been indicted, she had no right to a quick hearing.

In Mississippi, such hearings typically result in a judge setting bail and appointing a lawyer. Civil liberties advocates have questioned the ruling, saying Jauch's case points to problems with judicial procedure, bail and the appointment of public defenders in Mississippi. They argue that people in jail should have a lawyer as soon as possible.

Even the county and its sheriff told the federal judge that "Jauch states a plausible case for multiple constitutional deficiencies," but they blamed circuit judges and the district attorney.

Jauch's lawsuit sought to collect monetary damages from the county for violations of constitutional rights that she alleged.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued a number of states over failure to fund public defender systems, but not Mississippi. A state task force is studying the issue.

Cliff Johnson, a lawyer with the MacArthur Justice Center who has sued Mississippi localities over pretrial detention and high bails for indigent defendants, said Jauch is a victim of a system that doesn't respect the presumption of innocence accorded to accused people.

"At the end of the day, you're an innocent person, being held in a jail, awaiting the opportunity to prove your innocence," Johnson said earlier. "The default position is release. And we've flipped it, we've turned it on its head."

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