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Jailed without a Judge: AP reporter tells the story of woman jailed for months without due process

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Jeff Amy, a reporter in the Jackson, Mississippi, bureau, spend a lot of time combing through federal court filings. This is the kind of unglamorous day-to-day work that journalists do, hoping to occasionally stumble across a whopper of a tale.

In the story of Jessica Jauch, jailed for 96 days in Mississippi without seeing a judge, getting a lawyer or having a chance to make bail, Amy came across just such a whopper.

One of Amy’s regular routines is to check through the federal court calendars to see what the judges have on their planners. That’s how he came across Jauch’s case. His interested was initially piqued because it was a civil rights case.

The story began with a routine traffic stop on April 26, 2012. Jauch was then held based on based on an informant’s allegation that Jauch had sold her eight pills of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. She was charged with a felony based on a secretly recorded video that purported to show the illegal drug sale. She was thrown in jail, and then there she sat, for more than three months.

Over that whole time, prosecutors never watched the video on which the charges were based. When they finally did, and realized the alleged felony never occurred, the case fell apart.

Over that whole time, prosecutors never watched the video on which the charges were based. When they finally did, and realized the alleged felony never occurred, the case fell apart.

Realizing it was a “hell of a story, Amy printed out everything in PACER. It was an unusually rich file of documents including such information as the handwritten allegations from the confidential informant. Though Jauch and her lawyer wouldn’t talk to Amy,he tracked down other sources involved in the case. Amy knew that this case,while horrific,wasn’t necessarily a rarity in Mississippi. The state has struggled with properly paying for public defenders,so he found experts on the overall situation in Mississippi to fill out the story.

The story was widely shared on social media by a number of other reporters in the state. National criminal justice groups and advocates tweeted it,including the ACLU of Mississippi,the National Right to Counsel Campaign and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It was one of the most engaged stories of the week on both APNews.com and on AP’s Facebook page. It garnered hundreds of uses online,according to NewsWhip,and more than 2,500 comments on Yahoo. Amy also shot video the South Desk used to promote the story on Twitter. He also shot still photos that ran with the story.
For mining his beat for an important and dramatic tale that roped in an audience across his state and throughout the country, Amy wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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