HOUSTON (AP) — Judges on a federal appeals court said Wednesday that they were concerned a Mississippi woman had been jailed for 96 days without seeing a judge or having a chance to make bail.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Houston in the case of Jessica Jauch, who is appealing a lower court's decision to throw out a lawsuit she had filed against Choctaw County and the local sheriff over her incarceration.
Jauch, 34, was jailed after being indicted for selling drugs, even though a police video showed she committed no crime. She wasn't cleared until she finally got a lawyer who persuaded a prosecutor to watch the video and drop the charge. Jauch was arrested in April 2012, but wasn't arraigned and brought before a judge until July 2012, when she was finally given a bond.
Victor Fleitas, Jauch's attorney, told the judges his client's lengthy detention without being allowed to see a judge violated her fundamental liberties, including the right to due process.
Every sheriff's office knows if they arrest somebody, "that person must be taken before a court," Fleitas said. "You may not unilaterally decide to hold them in your lock up for an indefinite time."
Danny Griffith, an attorney for Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford, blamed Jauch's long incarceration in part on Mississippi state policies under which many circuit courts in rural parts of the state are in session only twice a year. Jauch's arrest came at a time when the Choctaw County's court was not in session, and she had to wait until it reconvened.
Griffith said the problem of infrequent county court hearings needs to be fixed at the state level, but also argued in court filings that Jauch's constitutional rights were not violated and that she "received the maximum protection afforded under Mississippi Law."
"We're all trying really, really hard to make it better in Mississippi," he said.
However some of the appeals court judges did not appear to be convinced.
Judge Catharina Haynes called Jauch's prolonged incarceration "worrisome."
"Your arguments show me why Choctaw County is such a mess," Haynes said.
Judge Gregg Costa said that under Mississippi law, someone who is indicted needs to be arraigned within 30 days, and that Jauch should have been arraigned within such a timeframe. Griffith said he disagreed.
"A person can be held forever?" Costa asked. "What limit is there?"
Haynes also questioned whether Halford, the sheriff, had done enough to let the local judge know about Jauch's case so that a hearing could have been held sooner.
"Mississippi has an odd procedure that results in a lot of people being denied their constitutional rights," Haynes said.
The three-judge panel was expected to issue a ruling at a later date.
Jauch is appealing the dismissal of her lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in the Northern District of Mississippi, who 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 Aycock's ruling, saying Jauch's case points to problems with judicial procedure, bail and the appointment of public defenders in Mississippi.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70