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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Man Sentenced to 12 Years For Having His Cell Phone in Jail

Willie Nash, man sentenced to 12 years prison for having a cell phone

Newton County, MS — Willie Nash, a 39-year old African American man who was caught in possession of a cell phone while he was held at a county jail in Mississippi, has been slapped with a 12-year prison sentence. Activists and others say that the sentence is too harsh for a non-violent offense.

In 2018, Nash, a father of three kids, was booked into the Newton County Jail on misdemeanor charges. He apparently handed his phone to a guard and asked if it could be charged.

When the phone was confiscated, Nash denied that it was his at first. He eventually admitted it belonged to him and he was using it to text his wife that he was in jail.

According to Mississippi law, it is a felony offense for inmates to have a cell phone while in correctional facilities and it carries a sentence of 3 to 15 years.

In August 2018, a jury sentenced Nash to 12 years in state prison after he was found guilty of having his cell phone in jail.

Nash did not appeal the verdict, but he challenged the sentence and said it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment which prevents cruel and unusual punishment. He noted that the sentence was “grossly disproportionate to the crime.”

Earlier this month, Nash’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, citing he is expected to be released by February 2019.

Justice James D. Maxwell II stated that the sentence was harsh but it was well within the statutory range for his offense, considering his past burglary convictions.

However, Justice Leslie D. King responded in an opinion that the case may have resulted correctly under the law, but it displayed “a failure of our criminal justice system on multiple levels.”

King also mentioned an officer’s testimony in Nash’s case that all inmates booked into jail are strip-searched, “yet Nash went into the jail with a large smartphone that would have likely been impossible to hide during a strip search. It seems problematic to potentially allow someone into the jail with a cell phone and then to prosecute that person for such an action.”

Moreover, King suggested a rehabilitative approach instead of a harsh sentence since the crime did not involve any victim and he did not use it to commit actual crimes. He also added that the incident could be due to the failure of the guards to do a proper booking procedure.

Meanwhile, many people on social media agreed that the sentence was harsh. Some are calling for Governor Tate Reeves to step in and commute Nash’s sentence.