Pulled over for traffic violations, Jessica Jauch was held for 96 days in a Mississippi jail without seeing a judge, getting a lawyer, or having a chance to make bail, the Associated Press reports. She was charged with a felony based on a secretly recorded video that prosecutors finally acknowledged showed her committing no crime. Only when she got a hearing and a lawyer, who persuaded prosecutors to watch the video, did the case fall apart. The 34-year-old mother sued, alleging violations of her rights to bail, legal representation, a speedy trial, and liberty.
A federal judge dismissed her case against Choctaw County and Sheriff Cloyd Halford, ruling that because she had been indicted by a grand jury on a felony drug charge, none of her constitutional and legal rights were violated. The outcome disturbs 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. Similar lawsuits have been filed across the nation. The American Civil Liberties Union is working state by state to force increased funding for public defenders, particularly in places where court-appointed lawyers depend on stingy local governments and court fees to get paid.