Holding Prisoner 96 Days Without Hearing Unconstitutional

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By Bernie Pazanowski

Holding a pre-trial detainee 96 days before bringing her before a judge violated due process, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held Oct. 24 ( Jauch v. Choctaw County , 2017 BL 381459, 5th Cir., No. 16-60690, 10/24/17 ).

The district court’s conclusion that the prolonged detention was valid under the Fourth Amendment because the defendant was arrested pursuant to a valid warrant was rejected in a decision by Judge Thomas M. Reavley.

A warrant was issued for Jessica Jauch after a grand jury decided there was probable cause to believe she distributed a controlled substance. She insisted she was innocent, but the sheriff said that she couldn’t see a judge until the court that issued the warrant returned for its next term—96 days later. The charge was dropped.

Jauch claimed the lengthy detention was unconstitutional. The district court decided Jauch’s due process claim was actually a Fourth Amendment claim. But because probable cause supported Jauch’s arrest, there was no constitutional violation, the court said.

But that would mean that any lengthy pre-trial detention is constitutional if supported by probable cause, the appellate court said. That’s wrong, a 14th Amendment due process analysis applies, it said.

There is a circuit split over whether a substantive or procedural due process analysis applies to a violation of a prisoner’s liberty interest, but the Fifth Circuit applied a procedural analysis.

An “indefinite pre-trial detention without an arraignment or other court appearance offends fundamental principles of justice deeply rooted in the conscience of our people,” it said.

Judges Catharina Haynes and Gregg J. Costa joined the opinioin.

Victor I. Fleitas, Tupelo, Miss., represented Jauch. Jacks Griffith Luciano PA represented the county and sheriff.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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