Monday, January 20, 2020

12 Years in Jail for a Cellphone? Oh Really?

The media made a big deal out of a man who was given a 12 year sentence for possessing a cellphone in the Newton County jail.  The national media picked up the story and it was off to the races.  Here we go again, Mean Ole Mississippi is locking up minority suspects and throwing away the keys.  Well, not so fast my friends.  The media once again was too lazy to do its job and find out when Willie Nash would actually get out of prison.  Clue: It's far sooner than 12 years.  Keep reading.

Nash was arrested and admitted to the Newton County jail on a misdemeanor charge in August of 2017.  He possessed a cell-phone that was missed on a search.  He later asked a guard to charge it for him.  That is when Nash's real problems began.

Section 47-5-193 of the Mississippi Code states upon conviction, the defendant:

“shall be guilty of a felony and upon conviction shall be punished by confinement in the Penitentiary for not less than three (3) years nor more than fifteen (15) years
The trial court sentenced him to serve 12 years in prison on August 20, 2018.  Nash did not challenge his conviction but rather the punishment, arguing it violated the Eight Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court said the statute treats all violations the same, regardless of whether the contraband is drugs, weapons, or cellphones.   The possession of the cellphone was a "specified violation" of the law.  The Court held it couldn't "disturb" the sentence if it was within the statutory range, 3 to 15 years in this case.

The Court noted the trial judge determined the true maximum sentence for Nash could have been 15 years on a day for day basis since he could have been classified as a habitual offender.  He was convicted of burglary in 2001.   The Court said the sentence was "obviously harsh" but not disproportionate.

The media found out about the decision and it was off to the races.  Poor black defendant given 12 years for merely having a cellphone in jail.  The social justice warriors got into the mix as well as the right-wing Johnny come lately's who are all about putting criminals back on the streets (Right, Russ?)

Well, perhaps someone should have bothered to do some research.  Mr. Nash will not serve anywhere close to 12 years in prison.  His conviction is considered to be a non-violent offense.  Non-violent.  Get it? That means he qualfies for.........drum roll........25% early release.  Yup.  He only has to serve 25% of his sentence before he is turned loose from prison.

MDOC confirmed the early release to this website Friday in an email:

He will serve three years, which is 25 percent date of the 12-year sentence. He has a 4/2/2021 parole eligibility date, based on the sentence for a nonviolent crime.
However, Media math in Mississippi means  3 years = 12 years.   Such a fact didn't mean anything to Jimmie Gates (Clarion-Ledger but we are used to his lack of research after all of these years) or the Associated Press.  Once the story hit the AP and Gannett wires, it made its way up to the national media.

Simply put, the local reporters were yet again too lazy or ignorant to ask MDOC when this guy would actually get out of prison.   It is rare when a non-violent, non-habitual offender serves more than 25% of his sentence in Mississippi.  


Anonymous said...

I’m as conservative as they come, but this sentence, even with the opportunity for parole with 25% of the time served, is ridiculous. So the taxpayers are now going to foot the bill for this guy for at least the next 3+ years. Somewhere along the way common sense has been removed for the sentencing process. I’m disappointed our fine state Supreme Court couldn’t apply some common sense.

Kingfish said...

3+? He gets out 15 or so months.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, I don't want to pay to lock him up for even one year for having a cell phone. There are a lot of people with "throw the book at them attitudes" without much skin in the game paying for that attitude.

Anonymous said...

What sentence do you believe is appropriate Mr. Conservative? Put up.

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled with the publicity- hopefully it will deter others.

Anonymous said...

“But, but, but if everyone would be just a little more liberal, like us libertarians, you would be more conservative. Free criminals and Free Weed, No Bail and Say No to those Pesky Christian Republicans.” Signed Liberty Minded

Anonymous said...

The cell phone problem is fixable in 2 ways:

1) Install a signal blocker at the prison. Other states do this and it works.

2) Change the punishment from additional prison time to 1 year of weed eater duty from July to July.

Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

Look at the state of MDOC prison over the last few weeks. This case is why. Regardless of how much he will serve, 12 years for a cell phone that was missed by booking guards is too much time. Sending people to jail cost. We should only be paying for that when a person is a true danger to society. In a case like this, give guy 30 days, 60 days, or even 6 months. But to even put 12 years on paper and have him have to serve up to 3 years, then be on parole/probation for a number of years is a cost this state cant continue to afford.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish1935, 25% is only an eligibility date. It's not a mandatory release date. The parole board does not have to release anyone because they are eligible for parole.

Anonymous said...

oh! only 15 months in prison, Kingfish? no big deal! he should have known they didn't properly search him at booking, right?

Anonymous said...

Average time served for non-violent offenses is actually more than 30%. The 25% is a floor, not a guarantee. Still a ridiculous sentence when we can't even afford to supervise the dangerous people we have in there.

Anonymous said...

So, Mr.Consrvative 11:01, what do you think should be done in this case? Ignore the law? That's certainly a conservative position.

Or, in the alternative, do away with the law? Let all inmates have cell phones on their persons and have the jailers serving as their personal aides by providing charging services?

You think this person should be able to walk? Its ok for him, just not all the other prisoners that get caught with cell phones? That's certainly not equal and fair, so therefore doesn't fit your "conservative as they come" stance.

So - just what do you think the judge should have done in this instance?

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether it's 15 years, 3+ years, or 15 months, this defendant should be released for time served under the facts of this case. And it is irrelevant what his race is. He had one burglary conviction 17 years before this cell phone thing. 11:54 is dead on.

12:24, it's not an all or nothing proposition. No don't get rid of the law. He served the time form his conviction in the trial court till the Sup. Court decision. That's plenty of punishment for this benign offense.

Anonymous said...

Why don’t we punish the jail attendants that missed this. Let them have some skin in the game. 1-5 years is a good start.

Anonymous said...

Should be a misdemeanor, 30 days in jail AT MOST.

Anonymous said...

So what the hell is wrong with so many people today? All these "don't be tough on criminals" people today blow my mind! It's human nature for people to do what you let them get away with. Crime is inversely proportional to the punishment. When society gets serious about crime and actually punishes it, we get less of it, and vice versa. With the catch and release programs, lowered or cancelled sentencing, etc., is it any wonder crime rates are going up? Is that some sort of incomprehensible concept for all you liberal idiots? Furthermore, the price of incarceration is the price of an otherwise livable society. I'd rather pay to lock them up than pay for the price of medical services / counselling following your daughter's rape!!!

The way I look at it is this: This guy (and all others) was in ONE HUNDRED PERCENT control of this offense. HE, and HE alone, decided whether he would be subject to punishment for known contraband (this wasn't his first prison rodeo, it seems). Therefore, I'm completely mystified as to the outcry over the punishment. Poor guy, the sentence is too harsh.........F' that!

Anonymous said...

11:32. The FCC made it illegal to block cell phone signals of any kind including in prison long ago. Do you hicks just make this stuff up on the fly?

Anonymous said...

"Crime is inversely proportional to the punishment." That might sound like it makes sense to you, but none of the research shows that is the case. This is similar to when liberals say that if we raise taxes we will get more tax dollars, when the opposite is often true. Stiffer punishments for petty offenses just fill up our jails with people who don't need to be there, and it's time we stop footing the bill for this nonsense because of slogans like yours.

Kingfish said...

Cellphones have contributed greatly to many of the problems in prison and jail. I guess none of you have watched the jailhouse videos posted here over the years. They are used to run gangs from the inside, get drugs and weapons, and of course, order hits.

He said the guard missed it. Um, ok. Let's say he is telling the truth. What's to stop the next guy caught with one from making the same claim? Prove he is wrong.

Nash didn't appeal his conviction. He appealed the sentence.

He will get out after serving a quarter of his sentence. The parole board will pretty much rubber stamp an application such as this one.

This is just like the auto burglar the CL whined about because he got 50 years when in reality, he will serve a fraction of the sentence.

As for Nash, I would have had no problem with him serving a year or so in jail. However, I don't think some readers realize how much problem these smartphones are in jail.

Anonymous said...

BS- Even with a early release date this is a ridiculous sentence. Violent offenders frequently get this or less.

Nash hadn't had a run in with the law in a decade. He was in for a misdemeanor charge and likely was not asked to give his phone up. The booking officer never testified at his trial. Likely because he didn't do his/her job and failed to take the phone. Nash wasn't originally booked on a "third" strike but a misdemeanor.

So people are right to be offended by the sentence even with an early release date. I am all for harsh sentencing for criminals but this was a mistake and it doesn't take social warriors or right wing "Johnny come lately's" to figure that out.

Anonymous said...

I think it's incredibly ironic that this story comes so soon after the (also national) reporting about the prison riots, etc., in Mississippi. In the last week there has been some published analysis that discussed the part inmate cell phones played in the prison system, which contributed to the structural breakdown(s). Now, because we blanche at the punishment, we want to excuse it, or blame the crime on the officers that failed to catch it on the front end.

FYI, I have been arrested (more than once); each and every time the officers warned me to give up any additional contraband because taking into the facility would result in additional charges. Of course, I can't say whether that happened in this case. Also, for those who want to know, I have been reformed and am now a tax-paying, contributing member of society. It does happen.

Anonymous said...

1:13 - You sound like a hick yourself.

11:32 had a great idea. If in fact, the FCC doesn't allow it why not change the law. It makes a lot more sense than having jailer have to check everyone's prison pocket for a phone and keeps criminal gangs from running things from the inside.

Anonymous said...

Let's be real. Sentences like this exist for the free prison labor at some of these prisons and the money made for services to house these prisoners. Private companies have their lobbyists demand sentences like this to keep their pockets lined with our tax dollars, because their beds are filled. I am all for tough sentences on crimes that merit it, but this is a joke. Give the guy 6 months at most, and call it a day.

Anonymous said...

Why don’t all you nut job Libertarians start your own damn party and then you can push your Get a out of Jail Free Card agenda and all the other BS y’all want.

Anonymous said...

Parole eligibility and release on parole are 2 different things. There is no guarantee of parole. He will PROBABLY be released at somewhere near 25%. But he may not be. And if not there’s nothing that requires otherwise. He should have challenged the conviction. Challenging the sentence alone was a huge hill to climb since the sentence is in the range set by the Legislature.

Anonymous said...

The reason signal blockers are banned by the FCC is that they block EVERYONE's signal and kill emergency capability. The FCC does not play on this front. They have given out plenty of very substantial fines to people who have tried to set one up.

The legal way to do this is for the prisons to lease spectrum from the wireless companies and set up their own private network, so that only approved devices can get through the network, but even that's not foolproof.

But this "great" idea of using signal blockers is 100% a complete non-starter. It will NEVER. EVER. HAPPEN.

Macy Hanson said...

KF, I will take your bait.

You asked: "He said the guard missed it. Um, ok. Let's say he is telling the truth. What's to stop the next guy caught with one from making the same claim? Prove he is wrong.

Nash didn't appeal his conviction. He appealed the sentence."

My response: nothing is ever stopping anyone from claiming anything - that is not a fair standard for you to impose in this discussion. The issue is whether the 12 year sentence is a fair and reasonable sentence (regardless of parole eligibility; even one year, under the facts in this appeal, is cruel and insane punishment in my opinion). It is not.

This inmate asked the officer for "some juice" and handed the guard/officer his cell phone to be plugged into an electrical outlet. This, on its face, is strong evidence that the prisoner was not concealing this cell phone. Which is strong evidence that (a) the inmate was not properly searched, if at all, on intake; and (b) that the prisoner had no idea that he was in violation of the law. This is a strict liability crime. No means rea is required (another big problem, in my view, of all strict liability crimes).

So, it is highly unlikely that a different outcome in this case would cause other prisoners to claim the very plausible defense of this one inmate, under this unique set of facts. Their claiming this defense would require that you turn over the illegal phone to prison guards. That would never happen, unless the prisoner did not know that possession is a crime, let alone a crime that carries this type of sentence.

Read Justice King's concurrence. It answers your question.

Anonymous said...

The only reason cellphones are treated so harshly is because they expose the disaster that is our state run prison system. Legislators don’t want the public or media to get a first hand look at their handy work.

Anonymous said...

Fair or unfair, the national uproar over this will hurt the federal judgeship chances of the Supreme Court members.

Anonymous said...

Macy Hansen, I have read both King's dissent (which he does on most every opinion that comes out of the SC that upholds existing statutes when they deal with crime) and I read the majority opinion. I also looked at the briefs filed in the case. (I'll make a bet that very few if any of the folks that are bitching on this site and other places about this sentence have done either, much less both.)

IF it his claim was true - HE could have called the booking officer to testify. 1:20 above tried to make the claim that the booking officer's failure to testify led credibility to Nash's claim - to which I would call bullshit. It wasn't the state's need to call him, but if its true then why didn't Nash call him to the stand?

The fact that Nash had been in jail before for a felony should have made him well aware that a cell was contraband - maybe he was just used to corrupt correctional officers when he asked for 'some juice' - but this time wasn't dealing with a CO from Parchman but a local jailer who didn't play that game.

Having been convicted several years ago and spending some time at the big house probably led him to this concept, because up there he probably not only got his juice from the CO but purchased the phone from him as well.

Either way, there was no evidence provided to say that the phone was "overlooked" during the entrance exam as all these social warriors are claiming. I realize that dealing with truth and facts is oftentimes a problem, but they are still truth and facts even when ignored.

And despite the hint by 1:20 that he wasn't in jail for a third hit implying that led to his sentence, the judge did not treat him as a habitual and stated so in the sentence. If he had used the repeat offender status, his sentence could have been even longer than the 12 years given.

Macy, I'm glad you are enamored by Justice King and his dissents, but thank the Good Lord his opinion is only shared by two of the nine folks on the dais. It ignores the laws that are passed across High Street and the enforcement of them by the Judges around the state that understand their role in the system - which is not to make the laws but to figure out the best way to apply them.

As long as I'm bitching, to those like 11:32 that claim the state could (1) install cell blockers "like other states do" and (2) put them on weed eater duty in July - please check your card at the door next time before you open your ass to opine.

Other states cannot install cell phone blockers because the FCC (a federal agency in case you aren't familiar with the concept) has banned such a process. So, Mississippi cannot do this either. I would be interested though in your providing the names of those states that have done it, so have at it when you can find one.

And the state cannot require inmates (convicts, despite the removal of the word from their state supplied uniforms) to work. That was outlawed several decades ago as well - by the feds and the courts. Inmates can work if they so choose and earn good time points and many do it just to have something to do. But the idea of plowing the 22,000 acres at Parchman, acting as retrievers during the dove hunts, or as work crews along the roadside as depicted in OH BROTHER - that train left the station a long time ago.

Now that your two solutions have been pitched in the trash where they belong, have you got other suggestions for us to consider from your great knowledge base?

Anonymous said...

5:20- No point in reading past the first or second paragraph of your long rant. Blah, blah, blah.

The booking officer failed regardless of whether or not Nash hid the phone. Nash should have never made it into jail with a phone. Additionally, he asked a jailer to charge it.

It is the 12 year sentence that doesn't make any sense. If you don't get that then you better hope that something similar doesn't happen to you or one of your loved ones. This is an abuse of the sentencing guidelines when killers and rapists frequently get less time.

Will wait for your next book to be published.

Anonymous said...

@6:45- You state the sentence doesn’t make sense, but you are looking at it as “just a cell phone.” The inmate was likely advised to surrender any additional contraband when the guard was doing his sloppy search job. The sentence is absolutely just, because it’s within the law and the contraband became a felony per the law. Would you commit a felony while jailed on a misdemeanor? (It doesn’t matter if he didn’t know it wasn’t a felony. Ignorance is not a valid defense.)

Now, is it fair? Not really, but the guy has been in jail before... he knows the rules. He knew exactly what he was doing. Maybe his previous jailhouse was more lenient regarding phones. Who knows! Regardless, he KNEW he should have coughed the phone up when processed.

This story, like the veteran with the repossession, was unfairly presented nationally with only half the information. I don’t understand how a journalist can get that euphoric high while presenting partial information... it’s so lazy and makes them look foolish! I long for the day when people think with their minds and NOT their emotions!

Macy Hanson said...


I appreciate your response on the substance of this. However, do you have any evidence to support your theories about the prior knowledge of this prisoner?

Also, Justice King wrote a CONCURRING OPINION, not a dissenting opinion. Justice King agreed with the result. So, I actually disagree with the ruling of Justice King, although his opinion is a major improvement upon the majority opinion. Not to be smart, but that is a really important difference.

Kingfish said...

Keep in mind Nash did NOT appeal the conviction. Wouldn't he have used the issue of a bungled search if it would affect the conviction?

The point of this post is to point out that everyone freaked out over a 12 year sentence when in reality, he is getting out after three years or a little more.

Now if you want to argue even a three year sentence is too long, fair enough. What is probably happening is judges are seeing how this 25% and 50% crap works and are tagging convicts with longer sentences knowing they will only serve a fraction of them.

YOu know, like the UMC child shooter who is probably getting out after serving only half of his ten year sentence.

Anonymous said...

Normally, I don't read long posts because they tend to be incoherent ramblings. I read all of the post at 5:20, and found the logic and reasoning persuasive.

On a somewhat-related note: Macy, Have you ever been wrong? About anything? And if so, were you always able to find some flaw in your opponent and/or his argument, such that you could still claim victory?


Anonymous said...

Here's what the DOC has to say about Mr. Nash. I saw this referenced in a number of articles, so the reporters did some followup work. Tentative release date of 02/04/2029.

I guess sentences are meaningless in Mississippi if a judge has to give a 12 year sentence to ensure someone serves three years.

Regarding Mr. Nash not appealing the conviction. He was guilty. Even if he argued he didn't know cellphones were contraband he was still in possession of one illegally. That said, the punishment didn't fit the circumstances. It should be obvious to even the most dense of people that someone didn't smuggle that cellphone to Mr. Nash. He was in possession of it all the time, even when the jailer was supposed to be following protocol and searching him after booking.

My personal opinion is this was a message from the judge to other accused individuals that they should go for a plea deal rather than think they can get any semblance of justice at trial. Trials just waste the judges' time and make them work. They hate that.

Macy Hanson said...

I am wrong all of the time. I am human. However, I also believe, perhaps naively, that deliberative discussion can elevate our thinking and our politics. And our justice system.

When I'm proven wrong about something, I sincerely hope that I will be the first to admit it.

Macy Hanson said...


The issue of an improper search would have no bearing on the conviction because the crime is a strict liability crime. That, quite simply, is not a defense. There are no defenses to strict liability crimes. That is why the liability is so strict.

Anonymous said...

12:20 PM
YES, either "do away with the law" altogether or modify the sentencing guidelines (lowering the minimum to 3 or 6 months) and allow intent to factor into sentencing. granted, the judge can't do this himself; however, he can draw attention to the case to pressure legislators to make such changes.

that said, why should we waste the time, money, and resources to care for a non-violent offender like this for several years? and what benefit does that provide for society? who will it help to keep this guy locked-up and away from his wife and kids for another 3 years? will it help his family and make it easier for him to earn a living after he's released? will it make him a better father for missing so much of his young children's' lives? is it going to make YOU feel safer at night knowing that some random guy who accidentally "smuggled-in" his own cell phone because the guards failed in their jobs by not patting him down is now going to be safely behind bars for at least another 3 years? the truth is, his punishment sucks, is counterproductive, and harms society more than it helps it! in any case, THE PUNISHMENT DOESN'T FIT THE CRIME and might even be considered cruel and unusual punishment! LET THE GUY GO HOME TO HIS FAMILY!

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