A Mississippi court says it will not be reconsidering a 12-year sentence for a Black man who carried his mobile phone into a jail cell after he was arrested.
Willie Nash was originally arrested on a misdemeanor charge before he entered the Newton County Jail in Decatur, Mississippi, with his cellphone. The now-39-year-old was charged with possession of a cellphone in a county jail and was given 12 years in August 2018.
Will Bardwell, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney, was hoping to have the Mississippi Supreme Court reconsider its earlier ruling against Nash, but the court declined that motion Thursday. Bardwell considered the ruling a miscarriage of justice and plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The sentence is longer than what Mississippi courts would rule for someone charged with second-degree arson or someone who faced a poisoning charge with an intent to kill, Bardwell said in his letter to appeal the sentence in January.
The Mississippi Supreme Court, which has one Black justice on its nine-member panel, had unanimously ruled against Bardwell in January.
That justice, Leslie King, wrote in the earlier decision that the prosecutor and trial judge did not have to punish Nash for the contraband. He wrote the offense was “victimless” and the case demonstrated “a failure of our criminal justice system on multiple levels.”
King said in January that he believed Nash unknowingly entered the jail cell with the mobile phone after officers at the jail did not follow up with booking procedures that would have required them to conduct a strip search and seize Nash’s smartphone. Officers were also required to tell inmates that cellphones are prohibited, King said in his opinion.
“But Nash’s behavior was that of a person who did not know this, as he voluntarily showed the officer his phone and asked the officer to charge it for him,” King wrote.
During Nash’s initial sentencing hearing in August 2018 Circuit Court Judge Mark Duncan told Nash he should consider himself fortunate that he did not receive additional time based on almost two decades’ worth of convictions.
Mississippi upholds strict laws regarding prohibited items in a correctional facility. Under the law, cellphones, SIM cards and even chargers are considered the same as drugs and deadly weapons. Those found in violation of the law typically face a maximum sentence of 15 years and a three-year minimum.
“It shows how punitive our system is federally and within states,” Nicole Porter, director of state advocacy for the Sentencing Project, told The Washington Post in January. “It’s a window into the extreme prison terms that many individuals are subject to regardless of circumstances.”