Mississippi Man Sentenced To 12 Years For Having Cellphone In Jail

There is a deeply disturbing ruling out of Mississippi where the state supreme court affirmed the sentence of Willie Nash for having a cellphone in the Newton County Jail. He received an absurd 12-year sentence. The decision not only shows how our criminal justice system continues to disproportionate sentencing but also how the Eighth Amendment has been effectively gutted as a tool to address such cases.

Willie Nash was booked in the Newton County Jail for a misdemeanor charge and he clearly did not understand that it was a crime to have the phone since he asked a jailer to charge his smartphone. The phone was confiscated and turned over to the sheriff. While Nash first denied ownership, the phone was unlocked when Nash gave the sheriff deputy his code. It found photos from the jail.

Mississippi Code Section 47-5-193, prohibits inmates from possessing “any weapon, deadly weapon, unauthorized electronic device, contraband item, or cell phone or any of its components or accessories to include, but not limited to, Subscriber Information Module (SIM) cards or chargers.” Even on the low end, the crime is severely punished at three years. It could result in as much as 15 years. The trial judge bizarrely gave Nash 12 years. It was a failure of both prosecutorial and judicial discretion, but it was still within the range of discretion. Thus, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the sentence.

The Court could have distinguished under 47-5-193 between deadly weapons and phones in the range of sentencing. However, it is not expressly required. In other words, it is a matter of discretion. Presiding Justice Leslie D. King wrote that he felt locked into the language but that the the case “seems to demonstrate a failure of our criminal justice system on multiple levels.”

King wrote:

“Cases like Nash’s are exactly why prosecutors and judges are given wide discretion. Nash served his time for his previous convictions and stayed out of trouble with the law for many years. He has a wife and three children who rely on him. His crime was victimless, and the facts of the case lend themselves to an interpretation that his crime was accidental and likely caused by a failure in booking procedures. Nash did not do anything nefarious with his phone, and he certainly did not hide his phone from law enforcement. While I do not think this Court can find under the law that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing, it is a case in which, in my opinion, both the prosecutor and the trial court should have taken a more rehabilitative, rather than punitive, stance.”

That is an understatement where an inmate voluntarily hands over his phone and then agrees to unlock it. While he had a record, King noted that Nash showed signs of rehabilitation and has a wife and children.

The case is an outrage caused by a trial judge who failed to exercise a modicum of judgment or proportionality in sentencing. The result is a travesty of justice.

Nash’s tentative release date is Feb. 2, 2029.

Here is the opinion: Nash v. State of Mississippi

216 thoughts on “Mississippi Man Sentenced To 12 Years For Having Cellphone In Jail”

  1. “Leonard Pitts: Call 601-359-3150 – tell Mississippi no one should do 12 years for having a cellphone”

    “Days after Willie Nash’s sentence was upheld, the feds recommended that Michael Flynn get six months for lying to the FBI. Seriously?”

    BY LEONARD PITTS JR, .THE MIAMI HERALD

    https://www.pressherald.com/2020/01/15/leonard-pitts-call-601-359-3150-tell-mississippi-no-one-should-spend-12-years-in-prison-for-having-a-cellphone/

    Excerpt:

    So Willie Nash is no aberration. No, he is the latest victim of a “just us” system that promiscuously discards black life, a three-card-monte-thumb-on-the-scale-ace-up-the-sleeve shell game of a system where justice evades and eludes, but the chance of going away for years for nothing lies ever in wait like explosives in a minefield.

    It wears you out, living in a minefield. Twelve years? For a cellphone? Seriously?

    If that seems insane to you, there are petitions seeking a pardon or clemency for Nash at Change.org for you to sign. For those who prefer the more direct approach, the phone number for incoming Gov. Tate Reeves is: 601-359-3150.

    1. The end of Pitts’ article:

      “Tell them what Fannie Lou Hamer said about getting sick and tired of being sick and tired.

      Tell them to send Willie Nash home to his family.

      And tell them it’s past time for slavery, in all its permutations, to end.

      Let my people go.

      Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

      lpitts@miamiherald.com

  2. Stupid. I’ve been in rankin county and parchman both. Having shakedowns. Police would come out with 20 or more phones. Even knowing who’s they were. All they did would take away there good time 30 for 30 or MET time. Meaning all the punishment is spending extra months incarcerated. Doing little more time. But 12 yrs is insane. Seriously stupid

  3. This is the only country in this world where it’s called the land of opportunity, and the land of the free . And neither one of those statements applies to you if your skin tone is black. This is what I personally call “A Dam Shame”.

    1. And neither one of those statements applies to you if your skin tone is black.

      Of course they apply. Blacks are found in significant numbers in every kind of occupation and very few of them are in danger of incarceration as long as they keep on the right side of the law. This man was given a draconian punishment, but it was triggered by his long-time side business of burglary and theft. You will increase your chances of remaining at liberty if you don’t burgle houses. Blacks who think this country offers a deficient quality of life can research alternatives.

      Liberals strike these blatantly foolish poses in a repellent effort to convince themselves that blacks need patronage from gentry liberals. Blacks having problems in living make utterances like that in order to avoid confronting the source of their problems. The source of your problems can usually be found staring at you in a mirror.

      You might make an attempt in the future at being something other than useless and obnoxious. You’re making the common life worse than it would otherwise be.

    2. Sir Timothy
      I strongly disagree with you. This country is far from perfect but it is still a land of opportunities, for All. Every negatiave thing that happens is not because of skin color. I have slept under bridges, an run a company with 60 employees. I have seen (white) squatters in my property insult me. Still I have found no better place, or more accepting place for an American Black man than here. Please note that there are many thousands of us with the means to leave here but Refuse to so. An ex football player now working for NIKE, A Host of entertainers a former president,. Every member of the Black caucus. All talk negatively about this country but not a one is looking to leave.
      Good ànd evil don’t have a color.

    3. Come ON!!!! Stop with the victim stuff. This is NOT because he is black-this is a BS case no doubt and I hope he would appeal-but has nothing to do with his skin color. Your comment is 100% racist

  4. I have been reading post after post ànd virtually NONE of them have any thing to do with the story of the Man getting 12 years for a cellphone. THIS is a local and state matter get off the I Hate / I love Trump wagon.

    1. You weren’t reading very carefully. Mespo has articulated his position on this man’s legal problems quite precisely.

  5. Informative article

    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1902944

    Suicide – New England Journal of Medicine

    Throughout the world, approximately 800,000 people die by suicide every year, accounting for 1.5% of all deaths.1 Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in North America and the foremost cause of death worldwide among persons 15 to 24 years of age.

    Risk factors for suicide have been investigated at the population and individual levels; in addition, predisposing factors and precipitating events have been examined, mainly at the individual level. Each of these factors can be mediated through genetic, psychological, and personality characteristics, making most explanatory models complex and difficult to interpret. One approach to understanding suicide has been life-course analysis,11 which is based on the premise that risk factors come into play at different stages of life () and that suicide is the cumulative result of risk factors over a lifetime.

    Individual factors, particularly psychiatric disorders,12 have the strongest effect on suicide rates in life-course models. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, substance use disorders, epilepsy,13 and traumatic brain injury14 each increases the odds of completed suicide by a factor of more than 3. Other predisposing factors include a previous suicide attempt, childhood sexual abuse, a family history of suicidal behavior, and loss of a parent to suicide in early childhood (). Causality is inferred by the consistent, strong, and temporal associations of these risk factors with suicide, but randomized, controlled trials of treatment aimed at modifiable risk factors have been underpowered to examine their effect on suicide. Information collected on persons who have died by suicide (“psychological autopsy”) indicates that mood disorders and substance use disorders are the major risks.23 In high-income countries, mental illnesses are estimated to be present in half of persons who have died by suicide, with affective disorders (depression and bipolar disorder) involved in a third to half of suicides.24 Suicide also occurs in the absence of an identifiable psychiatric disorder, and even when present, psychiatric disorders have co-occurred with other predisposing and precipitating risk factors in persons who have died by suicide.

    Predisposing factors for suicide are thought to interact with precipitating factors, and predisposing factors may have different effects depending on the resilience of the person. Predisposing and precipitating factors together are considered to result in psychological changes, including feeling alone, hopeless, and burdensome, which lead in turn to social isolation. These psychological changes, combined with access to lethal means, can allow for suicidal acts.25

    Among precipitating factors, stressful life events precede many suicides and suicide attempts (Table 1). Such events include relationship difficulties (particularly separation or divorce), death of a partner, and death by suicide of someone close16 — in particular, for mothers, death by suicide of adult children.26 Other precipitating factors include receiving a diagnosis of a chronic medical condition, particularly in the first week after a diagnosis of cancer.17 Suicide risk is also increased among assault victims, persons who have been arrested, and prisoners.27

    January 16, 2020
    N Engl J Med 2020; 382:266-274
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1902944

    1. This is why many have given up on the system, poor people get life sentience for minor things, yet those that are wealthy get to do what they want without anything happening to them by the justice system. Also the victims do not get the help that they need to put their lives back in order and we as a country are always looking to cause more war and oppression.

      I can see where suicide would be the best option for many, as it is often forced upon people. Where they have the choice of a long painful death or suicide. Having lived with Chronic pain I can understand why they would choose that route. However I have many others that if something happens to me, they would very likely die as well. I know my wife would be dead a number of times over if it were not for me, and I’m sure there are others out there as well that I have helped in their lives.

      I’m at the point where I have to have medications and equipment to keep myself alive and also keep people from stealing what I have that keeps me alive. It is a sorry world that we are in where those that cause the most harm to society are often the ones who are making the rules in society, and yet they are not jailed for their actions. Also if someone stole an apple or something from me I would as them why they just did not ask, however if it is something that I can’t replace the ends up ending my life that they steal then they should be charged for murder. We are worried more in this country about what someone puts in their body than if they are harming others to where they are not able to support themselves or if they kill someone. This is insanity to the core. The sentence should fit the crime and protecting people from other people should be the primary objective, but we do not see that anymore.

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