In 2012, a Mississippi mom named Jessica Jauch was pulled over by a cop for alleged traffic violations. What started as a routine situation quickly escalated, and soon Jauch found herself locked in jail for more than three months—96 days!—without a hearing.
She wasn’t allowed to see a judge, talk to a lawyer, or pay bail to get out and be with her family in advance of her trial.
Police said they had a secret video that showed her committing a felony drug crime—purchase of eight Xanax pills from a friend—but she wasn’t allowed to watch it.
When Jauch finally did get a lawyer and a hearing, her attorney convinced the prosecutors to watch the tape in question. Charges against her were promptly dropped, because the video actually showed her asking to borrow $40, but no one had bothered to view it before hauling Jauch in front of a grand jury and indicting her.
Four years later, Jauch is still dealing with the aftermath of her ordeal, because so far, no one has been held accountable even though the sheriff who jailed her admitted she has “a plausible case for multiple constitutional deficiencies.” The Associated Press reports:
[T]he 34-year-old mother sued, alleging violations of her rights to bail, legal representation, a speedy trial and liberty.
But a federal judge dismissed her case against Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford last month, ruling that because she had been indicted by a grand jury on the felony drug charge, none of her constitutional and legal rights were violated.
The outcome has flummoxed civil liberties advocates who have been waging legal battles to reform Mississippi’s criminal justice system, which provides almost no state funding for public defenders.
“I can’t think of a situation where denying someone an appearance before a judge for 96 days after arrest passes constitutional muster,” said attorney Cliff Johnson, who has sued Mississippi localities over pretrial detention and high bails for indigent defendants.
And the crazy part is this isn’t a unique case as we might hope it to be. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union says they’re dealing with similar cases nationwide, though Mississippi might be unusually egregious because some of its circuit courts are only in session twice a year (!) so people who are arrested just have to rot in jail or pony up thousands of dollars for bail until a judge shows up maybe months later.
In another Mississippi case the Associated Press mentions, a man was held for 23 months before all charges against him were ultimately dropped—and he didn’t even get a settlement for losing two years of his life!
Look, there’s room to debate about exactly what the Constitution means when it says we are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial, but by no stretch of the imagination is multiple months of pre-hearing lockup like this acceptable.
In Jauch’s case and others, someone needs to be held accountable—and I don’t simply mean a settlement (though that may sometimes be part of the solution), in which responsibility is passed on to taxpayers’ bank accounts and the actual local officials involved get off scot-free.
Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for police and court system mistakes. No, the people who let these cases happen are the ones who need to make it right.
An ostensibly free country does not just steal months of innocent people’s lives for no reason and then give them no justice.