SPLC calls 12 year sentence for prison cell phone ‘cruel, unusual punishment’

This is an undated Mississippi booking photo provided by Department of Corrections shows Willie...
This is an undated Mississippi booking photo provided by Department of Corrections shows Willie Nash. . The Mississippi Supreme Court confirmed Nash's 12-year prison sentence for carrying his mobile phone into a county jail cell, on Jan. 9, 2020. The ruling on the 2018 sentencing is being slammed by some people as a brutal example of racial injustice. (Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP)(Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP)
Updated: Jan. 23, 2020 at 5:06 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Southern Poverty Law Center is calling for a new hearing for a Mississippi man sentenced to 12 years in prison for having a cell phone in jail.

Willie Nash was sentenced earlier this month. Nash didn’t seek to overturn his conviction, but argued on appeal that his August 2018 sentence was grossly disproportionate, violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Nash was taken into custody in 2018 for a misdemeanor charge in Newton County. SPLC said he handed the phone to a guard, which is the only reason the phone was found.

The SPLC filed a motion for a rehearing for Nash’s case. They call the sentence “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Mr. Nash did nothing wrong,” said Will Bardwell, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The Newton County Jail’s policy is to strip-search everyone when they arrive, but the jail violated its policy by failing to search Mr. Nash; if they had, they would have found and taken his cell phone.”

SPLC is also calling for Mississippi to adjust its laws for habitual offenders. They say 36 states allow a maximum of five years for possessing a cell phone in prison, and some states do not punish it with jail time at all.

“No other state in America punishes behavior like Mr. Nash’s as excessively as Mississippi,” said Bardwell. “Mr. Nash is why we need to address excessive sentencing as part of reforming our criminal justice system.”

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