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Falsely Accused, Wrongly Jailed Mississippi Woman Can Sue County

On April 26, 2012, Jessica Jauch was pulled over in Choctaw County, Mississippi and arrested on an outstanding felony warrant for selling a controlled substance. For the next 96 days she sat in jail, without access to an attorney or a judge.

The charges underlying that warrant turned out to be false, so Jauch filed a civil rights lawsuit against Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford. While a lower court dismissed her claims based on the grand jury's indictment, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the suit, ruling that Jauch had been denied "basic procedural due process" by the county and Sheriff Halford in being held so long.

Incontrovertible Innocence

Jauch's indictment was based on video surveillance that allegedly showed her selling Xanax to an undercover police informant. When her attorney finally got a copy of the video, it showed Jauch borrowing $40 from the informant, a friend, and the assistant district attorney decided to dismiss the drug charge.

Jauch's lawsuit involves the 96 days she was detained in the meantime, all without access to an attorney or a hearing before a judge. When Jauch asked jail officials about a bail and probable cause hearing, she was told she had to wait because Mississippi district judges often go from county to county throughout the year to hear cases, and the circuit court in Choctaw County was not in session when Jauch was arrested. And it wouldn't be for another three months.

Postponed Procedural Rights

"A procedure calling for extended pre-trial detention without any sort of hearing is alien to our law," Circuit Judge Thomas Reavley wrote, allowing Jauch's lawsuit to proceed. "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," Reavley added, asserting indefinite pre-trial detention without an arraignment or court appearance offended "fundamental principles of justice."

Jauch's lawsuit can now proceed to a jury.

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