A Black man who was initially charged with a misdemeanor was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for having a cellphone in jail.
The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Willie Nash’s 12-year sentence for having contraband while at Newton County Jail in Newton County, Mississippi, according to the Washington Post.
While being processed for a misdemeanor disturbance, disorderly conduct charge, jail officials did not take his cellphone. Nash, a husband and father of three, received a text from his wife who asked, “WYA” (where you at). Nash responded by texting, “In jail.”
His cellphone’s battery was low, so he asked one of the jail’s officers to charge his phone. The officer confiscated the phone, and Nash was charged with having contraband inside the jail.
According to Mississippi state law, jail inmates who have cellphones, SIM cards and chargers often face as many repercussions as a person charged with possessing drugs or deadly weapons. Inmates caught with contraband can face a minimum of three years and a maximum of 15 years in prison if they are caught with the devices.
In August 2018, Circuit Judge Mark Duncan sentenced Nash to 12 years. Nash challenged the sentence in Mississippi Supreme Court.
The judge and jury in Nash’s trial never heard whether officers followed booking procedures because the officer who booked Nash did not testify.
Nash’s attorneys said the sentencing violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which makes cruel and unusual punishment illegal.
However, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James D. Maxwell II wrote, “While obviously harsh, Nash’s 12-year sentence for possessing a cellphone in a correctional facility is not grossly disproportionate.”
Nash will be eligible for parole in 2029.