On September 23, 2014, two Scott County, Mississippi residents who had been arrested and detained filed this class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The plaintiffs sued Scott County, an Eighth Circuit Judge, and Scott County Justice Court judges. ...
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On September 23, 2014, two Scott County, Mississippi residents who had been arrested and detained filed this class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The plaintiffs sued Scott County, an Eighth Circuit Judge, and Scott County Justice Court judges. The plaintiffs filed on behalf of themselves and sought to certify a class of those similarly situated. They brought this class action suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs alleged that they were indefinitely detained without individualized bail hearings in Scott County and were indefinitely denied counsel throughout the Eighth Circuit Court District, which violated their Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The plaintiffs sought monetary damages, attorneys fees, and a declaratory judgment.
After the plaintiffs were arrested in Scott County, the judges set their bail without any individualized hearing or consideration of the bail factors required under state or federal law, including the ability to afford bail and the appropriateness of non-monetary bail options. The bail was set such that the plaintiffs were financially unable to pay the bond or the set percentage of the bond that would be required to secure the bond through a bond company or agent. Additionally, the plaintiffs had to wait over a month before the court appointed a public defender to represent them, even though they had both completed Affidavits of Indigence and Application of Felony Indigent Counsel. Under Mississippi law, they should have had immediate representation by a public defender after submitting their affidavits and applications. Scott County also enforced a custom and policy of not providing counsel to indigent felony arrestees until they had been indicted, which could take months.
As a result of these practices, felony arrestees in Scott County were routinely detained prior to indictment simply because they were too poor to afford bail. The scarcity of grand jury panels further exacerbated the risk of indefinite pre-indictment detention in Scott County. A felony arrestee could have waited three to five months to learn if he had been indicted and, consequently, to be appointed representation. This meant that felony arrestees did not have attorneys to represent them at their initial appearance where they had to argue for release or reasonable bail.
The plaintiffs alleged that these practices violated the plaintiffs' Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to the assistance of counsel, their Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial, their Fourteenth Amendment rights against excessive and punitive pre-indictment detention, and their Fourteenth Amendment rights to an individualized bail hearing and determination.
On September 23, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a motion to certify a class. Following the plaintiffs' filing of an amended complaint, all of the defendants in this case filed motions to dismiss.
On September 30, 2015, Judge Wingate issued an order granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motions to dismiss, and dismissing the plaintiffs' motions to certify a class as moot. The court granted the motions to dismiss of both the Eighth Circuit judge and the Scott County Judge Court judges. Additionally, the court granted Scott County's request to dismiss the plaintiffs' requests for injunctive and/or declaratory relief. However, the court retained the plaintiffs' demand for monetary damages against Scott County. The court stayed that portion of the lawsuit pending the conclusion of state court criminal proceedings. Finally, because the only remaining claims were the plaintiffs' individual damages against the county, the court dismissed the motions to certify classes as moot.
As of November 14, 2015, this case was ongoing. Rachel June-Graber - 11/13/2015