Woman Behind Bars For Months Without Seeing Judge Files Lawsuit
Jessica Jauch’s, a 36-year-old Mississippi woman, filed a lawsuit after being placed behind bars 96 days without seeing a judge. U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock, nominated by former President, George W. Bush, recently ruled that Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford are liable for violating Jauch’s constitutional rights. A March jury trial has been set to determine damages. However, the county and Halford are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Jauch was arrested on traffic charges in 2012 and held behind bars after being served with a drug indictment. While in jail, she was forced to temporarily sign over her daughter’s custody rights to her mother. After finally seeing a judge, she was appointed a public defender and made bail. She was cleared of the drug charge after undercover video showed she had not committed a crime.
District Attorney Doug Evans said his office reviewed the video before presenting the case to the grand jury and believed it showed a “hand-to-hand transaction.” He added, “The videos aren’t like a movie in Hollywood. The cameras normally only show parts of what’s going on. In this one, we saw parts of what was going on.” Evans said there were problems with the informant and he “didn’t have enough confidence in the informant to put them on the stand.”
In Choctaw County, circuit court meets two times a year. The sheriff said he didn’t have to take Jauch before a judge until court met because she’d already been indicted on a felony drug charge. Aycock originally agreed, dismissing the case in 2016. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal reinstated the case the following year, saying her detention was “unjust and unfair” and “alien to our law.”
Circuit Judge Thomas Reavley, nominated by former President Jimmy Carter, wrote, “Heaping these consequences on an accused and blithely waiting months before affording the defendant access to the justice system is patently unfair in a society where guilt is not presumed.”
The county asked the full 5th Circuit to rehear the case, but the court refused on a 9-6 vote. “A county sheriff is not responsible for judicial oversight of a state circuit court judge as such responsibility would violate state separation of powers,” wrote attorneys Daniel Griffith and Christopher Bailey in their petition to the Supreme Court. The county also argues that state law doesn’t always require someone who is indicted to be arraigned before a judge.
“The sheriff, who is the chief executive of the county with respect to detention operations, chose to adopt a policy of doing nothing, and that choice caused a deprivation of constitutional rights,” wrote Jauch’s attorneys, Victor Fleitas and Michael Kirkpatrick, adding, “The delay in detention complained of was a failure of state officials to perform functions allocated to the state under the substantive law of Mississippi.”
Mississippi has a long history of people being arrested before trial and held behind bars for a long period of time with little access to an attorney or bail. In 2017, the state Supreme Court has enacted new rules of criminal procedure that seem more promising.