Being arrested and taken to jail can be a stressful and frightening experience. Many people choose to make bail and await trial out of custody, if the judge permits bail in their case. However, in order to make bail, a bail must be set. And in order for this to happen, a person must first go before a judge. While there may be some delay before a defendant is able to see a judge, when the delay becomes excessive it may violate a defendant's constitutional rights. That is the issue that arose in the case of one Mississippi woman. The Washington Post reported that Jessica Jauch was held for 96 days in jail in Choctaw County before she was finally able to see a judge. This lengthy pre-trial detention later became the basis for a lawsuit that Jauch brought against the county and the sheriff.
Jauch was arrested in April 2012 for the sale of a Schedule IV controlled substance after being indicted by the grand jury on the information of a confidential informant. She remained detained on a capias warrant for months despite her requests to be taken before a judge. The reason she was told her requests were denied was that the sheriff had stated she could not be taken before a judge as the next term of the Circuit Court didn't begin until August. Thus, Jauch languished in jail for 96 days waiting for the term to start. Finally, in August she was appointed an attorney and had her bail amount set. She posted bail a few days later and the charge she was arrested on was later dismissed after the prosecutor reviewed the evidence against her.
Jauch subsequently filed a lawsuit against the sheriff and the county alleging that they had violated her constitutional rights. The district court sided with the government on all her claims and Jauch appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
The Fifth Circuit came to a different conclusion than the lower court. It focused solely on Jauch's Fourteenth Amendment claim and held “that this excessive detention, depriving Jauch of liberty without legal or due process, violated that Amendment; for that reason, her motion for summary judgment should have been granted as to the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim.”
The court found that Jauch's case dealt with procedural due process and looked at “whether the state has ‘deprived the individual of a protected interest – life, liberty, or property.” The court stated that in Jauch's case, it was dealing with “a deprivation of a protected liberty interest due to an allegedly unfair procedural scheme.” The unfair scheme was that “[a]s a matter of procedure, defendants in held in Choctaw County on capias warrants are held without an arraignment or other court proceedings until the circuit court that issued the capias next convenes.” The court determined that the “indefinite detention procedure violated Jauch's right to procedural due process.”
The court concluded that “indefinite pre-trial detention without an arraignment or other court appearance offends fundamental principles of justice deeply rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people.” The court looked at past precedent and tradition and stated that “[W]e are aware of no statutory schemes that permit jailers to hold criminal defendants indefinitely or until the next term of court without bringing them before a judge.” Rather, most state rules require the opposite, that defendants be brought before a judge promptly and “without unnecessary delay.” In addition, the court noted that “[p]rolonged pre-trial detention without the oversight of a judicial officer and the opportunity to assert constitutional rights is facially unfair.” The court also determined that the county and the sheriff could be held liable for violating Jauch's constitutional rights.
According to the Washington Post, the attorney for the sheriff and the county declined to comment on the case, “saying he would speak through court filings.” It is possible that "he could request a rehearing before the full 5th circuit or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The Post also reported that on July 1st Mississippi “enacted new rules of criminal procedure . . . that advocates hope will prevent poor people from being stuck in jail without a lawyer or bail.” These new rules “say that, among other things, those arrested before being indicted are supposed to appear before a judge within two business days, and anyone arrested after indictment must be arraigned within 30 days.”
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