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Willie Nash v. State of Mississippi

Willie Nash was sentenced to a 12-year prison sentence for bringing a cell phone into a county jail. After the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Nash’s sentence, the SPLC filed a motion on behalf of Nash, urging the court to rehear his case and arguing that the sentence is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. 

In 2018, Nash was arrested on a misdemeanor charge and booked at the Newton County Jail. He had a cell phone when he was taken into custody. Despite jail policy requiring a strip search of arrestees, Nash was not searched – so his cell phone went unnoticed. Once in jail, he handed the phone to a guard and asked if it could be charged. Nash was charged with illegally possessing a cell phone and given a 12-year prison sentence for a victimless crime.

The motion for rehearing explains that the only reason Nash had the cell phone was because jail officials violated their own policy by failing to search him. Nash never attempted to conceal the phone. The only reason authorities became aware of the phone was because Nash gave it to a guard.

When the motion was filed, at least 36 states allowed sentences of no more than five years for possessing a cell phone in prison. Several states do not punish cell phone possession with jail time at all, according to SPLC research.