Serving 12 Years for Possessing a Cellphone—Unless the Coronavirus Gets to Him First

Some places are releasing nonviolent offenders during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mississippi won't free a man who failed to hand in his phone.


Several jurisdictions are trying to minimize COVID-19's damage by releasing prisoners, usually low-level, nonviolent offenders. Offenders like Willie Nash, who was sentenced to 12 years for mistakenly having a cellphone in jail. But when faced with yet another opportunity to right the wrong done to Nash, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled against a rehearing on Thursday.

As Reason reported in January, Nash had been booked for an unrelated offense. While there, he asked a jailer to charge his phone. It's pretty clear that he did not know that it was illegal to possess a cellphone in a corrections facility, let alone that it was a felony carrying a penalty of three to 15 years.

A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for possessing the phone.

Nash's story garnered national attention after Mississippi Supreme Court justices not only upheld the sentence, but acknowledged that booking procedure was likely not followed, that Nash appeared to be genuinely unaware of the offense, that the sentence was harsh, and that Nash was a family man and provider who managed to stay out of trouble for 10 years after a previous burglary conviction.

On Thursday, the Court denied Nash relief once again by denying and dismissing a motion for a rehearing. The decision letter does not provide an explanation beyond citing a slightly modified version of the first court decision.

Leonard Rubenstein, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, has called corrections facilities were the "perfect environment for the spread of COVID-19." Inmates are unable to practice social distancing, they frequent common spaces, and they have limited access to soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and personal protective equipment. Fears about mitigation are already a reality in some cities. In Mississippi, 39 inmates and four corrections staffers recently tested positive for coronavirus in Yazoo City.

With Mississippi prisons facing significant deterioration, unsanitary conditions, and overincarceration, the state should cut the prison population where it can. And who better to release than Nash?

Nash's situation is dire, but there is still room for hope. Will Bardwell of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the motion for rehearing on Nash's behalf, says he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

NEXT: Religious Freedom Clashes With Public Health Enforcers

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34 responses to “Serving 12 Years for Possessing a Cellphone—Unless the Coronavirus Gets to Him First

  1. Funny that the prisoner gets in trouble for not enforcing rules on himself, and the guard gets off easy.

    1. Don't they search prisoners?

      Forget cell phone, what if he'd had a gun in his pocket -- and had malicious intent? I'm imagining a gun in the jail could be a tad more problematic than a cell phone....

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    2. You can't expect cops (or prison guards) to know every nuance of every law. You, on the other hand, cannot use ignorance of the law as an excuse.

  2. Nash's story garnered national attention after Mississippi Supreme Court justices not only upheld the sentence, but acknowledged that booking procedure was likely not followed, that Nash appeared to be genuinely unaware of the offense, that the sentence was harsh, and that Nash was a family man and provider who managed to stay out of trouble for 10 years after a previous burglary conviction.

    So they acknowledge that mens rea has no business in a court of law.

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking. I thought pretty much all crimes have an intent element. Everyone here seems to concede this poor son of a bitch did not intend to commit the crime he was charged and convicted of.

      1. It also matters what intent is required.

        Is it intent to violate the law.


        Is it intent to commit the act proscribed by the law whether you knew it was illegal or not.

        To me if you are going to make intent an element of a crime, the second makes more sense than the first.

        Then there is the long standing principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse (unless you are a law enforcement officer).

        1. I can't understand how a jury can convict someone who unknowingly committed a crime that did not harm the life, liberty or property of another person. It simply does not compute. Then again I lost my respect for government's law a long time ago.

          "No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them." -Bastiat

          I chose to keep my moral sense.

          1. "-Bastiat"


            1. Here, Tulpa, read and heed, this might help you!

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              1. You *really* need to take your meds. Or stop taking meds. One of the two.

                Just do what you're not doing now. Because right now you're a sick embarrassment.

                1. I'm not embarrassed one tiny iota!

                  If you're embarrassed by your utter lack of wit, eloquence, and erudition, compared to the writings of Yours Truly... Then DON'T READ MY SHIT!

                  Even a rock, a dog dropping, or a toadstool knows how to NOT read something!

                  1. Hihn's apparently dead, so you have the "Reason's undisputed creep" by default. Why work so hard when you could just kick back, rest on your laurels, and drink a bottle of Draino?

                    1. I, too, if I was in your place, which, thank Government Almighty, I am not... I, too, would be utterly embarrassed by my utter lack of eloquence or ability to engage in factually-driven discourse... So, Freddy the Jerk, keep right on jerking off in public, and do NOT be embarrassed! You yam what you yam, which ain't worth a damn! Tolerant folks do make room for the intellectually handicapped, you know... So keep on keeping on! Don't worry, be happy! Every village has room for a village idiot, or 10 or 70, or 345,982!!!

    2. I lied to a federal agent during an illegal stop/search in '80. The lie was to protect my privacy (the question was personal) and I wasn't told that any lie, no matter how innocent was a felony. No attempt was ever made by the prosecution to show my lie was with bad intention. When asked to justify the stop the 3 agents refused.
      The jury didn't care if the stop was constitutional or the lie was material or innocent. They convicted anyway. The 9th Circuit Appeals Court agreed and so did the SCOTUS.
      Both the Constitution and common sense were irrelevant to these people. Why? They didn't need to be logical. They had all the power.

  3. I mean, on the one hand, this is a pretty fucking ridiculous sentance, and the COs involved should be "reassigned" to non-job holding positions elsewhere in the economy. On the other hand... considering that he had been in prison before, based on the article, and that it's pretty common knowledge that cell phones aren't allowed, I'm gonna guess Mr. Nash wasn't getting a 4.0 in school. Out of curiosity, what was the misdemeanor charge that he was originally booked for?

    1. Disturbing the peace disorderly conduct is what i read.

      1. thanks. But yeah, I stand by my previous statements. The length of the sentence is stupid, and so is this guy.

    2. He was in prison a long time before. Cell phones haven't been around forever.

  4. stupid even for Mississippi. what's the other side of the coin?

  5. "Nash was a family man and provider who managed to stay out of trouble for 10 years after a previous burglary conviction."

    A formerly convicted burglar didn't know that it was against the law to have a cell phone in prison?

    The examples we use for these things only make the arguments worse. The idea that your example is so cute that people should change their minds about something has a number of problems with it.

    1) It's an appeal to pity, which is a logical fallacy--non-violent offenders should be freed or not regardless of whether we feel sorry for them.

    2) The idea that justice should be served when we feel sorry for people undermines justice itself. Terrorists, child-murderers, and arsonists are also entitled to justice. This guy isn't any of those things, but are you trying to undermine justice for others who aren't so cute by making cuteness the standard?

    3) Associating the argument for letting these people free based on the relative cuteness of this guy (It shouldn't even be a crime!), intentionally or otherwise, invites those who disagree with you to attack this man's cuteness--and that's just mean.

    It's much like going after a politician's family. Generally speaking, that's not okay--unless the politician in question campaigns as a better candidate than the opposition on the basis that he's such a fine father who has raised such a fine family. Once he does that, if his son is in rehab and his early teen daughter has been pregnant twice, then those facts become legitimate campaign issues.

    Once you've told the general public that we should let prisoners go because 'look what happened to this guy', you've invited everyone in the general public who disagrees with you to go after that guy's character--and whether you did it intentionally or not is mostly beside the point.

  6. They don’t allow inmates to possess guns either.

    Dipshit is a career criminal who has spent much of his life behind bars.

    Whose stupid enough to believe that neither he nor the guards new the rules?

    Dipshits in jail maintain their criminal enterprises on the outside with illicit cellphones. Crooked guards enable them. The system is broken.

    When they get caught, everyone lies. Nobody presses charges on the guards. Adding time to a career criminal is a slammer dunk.

    1. Dipshits in jail maintain their criminal enterprises on the outside with illicit cellphones. Crooked guards enable them. The system is broken.

      He was not using his phone to do anything criminal. He texted his wife to tell her he was in jail. It sounds like he was booked for pre-trial confinement; you'd think his wife would have known if he'd been heard and sentenced. And he willingly handed his phone over and asked if the guard could charge it for him, showing he wasn't even thinking about the implications of it.

      So yes, I understand why possessing a phone is illegal, but why not leave it as a minor offense when it's clearly not being used in a sinister fashion? You could have the offense carry more serious penalties based on how it's used.

      1. Further more, if you start talking about the dangers of what someone COULD do, you're starting with a presumption of guilt.

        You know what, I own a car. I COULD drive it to a daycare and ram it into a playground and kill some toddlers. I've never shown any inclination of that, but I COULD, so you'd better throw me in jail, right?

        1. Then why not give all inmate guns?

          Of course just because they “could” escape, doesn’t mean they will,

          Just texting his wife eh? Bullshit.

          1. I don't think inmates should have guns. I think the consequences of having a gun should be significantly less than the consequence of using the gun to shoot an inmate or a guard.

            Stop using fucking strawman arguments.

            1. Maybe you would prefer that your contradictions go unrecognized.

  7. This guy is doing 12 years for having a fucking cell phone, ubiquitous consumer tech, in his pocket. This is a fucking joke and a travesty of justice. He should be released immediately, not because of coronavirus but because putting a man in prison for over a decade because of a fuck-up (a fuck-up with more elements than Nash) is inhumane.

  8. The Jurors didn't know about jury nullification. Nash was guilty. The Judge handed down the sentence. Maybe the Governor will commute his sentence or issue a pardon.

  9. It's Mississippi and he's black - what other result would one expect? I dunno if all of the Mississippi Supreme Court justices are rednecks but I strongly suspect that they are.

  10. When all participants of a "system" are feeding from the same nose-bag, free from competition -- and are allowed (by your neighbors and friends -- hopefully not you) to
    • Make the laws,
    • Enforce the laws,
    • Prosecute the laws,
    • Hire the prosecutors,
    • License the “defense” attorneys,
    • Pay the “judges”,
    • Build the jails,
    • Contract jails out to private entities,
    • Employ and pay the wardens,
    • Employ and pay the guards,
    • Employ and pay the parole officers,
    One can't honestly call it a "justice" system. It's a system of abject tyranny.

  11. I have a PhD in English and an MA in anthropology. My specalty is looking at patterns. I love to analyze patterns and the shut down gives me a lot of time for that.

    So, I'm going to say first off I think this is a propaganda piece. I think that the man is guilty but it isn't a phone that he possessed but gun. This is because the police are always mistaking phones for guns and shooting people and then getting off for it because mistaking a gun for a phone at a distance is an honest mistake. This is the defense being used here, but just in a slightly different way.

    There is also something off about the facial expression of the prisioner. It is a close up which is unusal. This about it, how often would a professioal photographer be able to get in that close to photograph someone like this in a full face what I would call sympathy shot. The expression is attempting to say, "I'm so pure and harmless" and does have many of the markers for that but there are a few tells for lies as well. I'm not a professional at this but I did study it enough as well as the TV show a while back to say that I'm pretty sure this is what is going on.

    But that isn't even the real bit of propaganda the real bit of propaganda that points to the story also be propaganda is that Covid19 is not what the media is saying it is. I want to identify as an extreme liberal who hates Trump and then go on with the analysis that says that the US never should have shut down the economy.

    Since I study patterns and look at propaganda I could see that the early Covid 19 stories were coded for propaganda and that it was true that it wasn't a truly fatal disease for most people. There is a whole lot of data in the stats that are just available online now that allows for analysis between New York and Spain and Italy--3 way comparison, And then countries like Pakistan with the US, and then Oregon, Utah, and Kentucky. All of this together says that social distancing is not a prevention for Covid but almost certainly the opposite. Particularly, Pakistan and Switzerland are interesting. (Again I do this analysis on my Facebook page so you can find me there with the orange tick icon--I've had several accounts because I get hacked and have to open a new one so just keeping an old one up that I don't use prevents someone from hacking me. They know it is pointless). These two Pakistan and Switzerland are leaders in low incidence of Covid19 and high survival rate among those that do get it. They are entirely opposite types of countries. Pakistan is a high population density country with low technology. Switzerland is the clean freak of Europe. So if hand sanitizer were the answer then yes Switzerland is a good model of what to do. But Pakistan has a higher survival rate than Swizterland.

    This and other data analysis leads me to conclude that the most likely treatment for Covid 19 is small particles of other peole's poo, similar to polio but still a little different since I think Covid19 is a manufactured disease.

    By this I mean one or more countries got together and decided to make Covid19 to bring down the world population and to help end global warming, but I think the real brain child purpose is to make all workers everywhere as desperate as the factory workers in China who will be asked by management to have an "accidental fall" into a vat of boiling plastic so that the family can collect the few dollars insurance money. I'm not exactly sure how this got started from the informaiton that was passed to me through contacts but I think it has something to do with WWII. More obviously it has to do with how the Chinese revere their elders. Thus, if a gandparent made a deal with the Satan of plastic recyling that they had to throw themselves to add the necessary amino acids and carbon for the really nice high quality plastic (what my source told me and they can't go to someone working at a paper because that person could be fired. They had to go me even though I'm not necessarily the most well-known person but I am a solid activist who has been writing and posting for multiple years and I always work by sound logical premises and I am also fearless, or at least fearless for practical puroses. So someone on a last ditch effort would contact me and I would try even if I thought it a lost cause.)

    And this is what China not wanting to take anymore plastic recyling is all about. But I don't quite understand it. Other than my impression is that the bottles most likely to be made from dead Chinese people are the heavier plastic bottles for juice, plastic bags for food like the high end Ziplock and the high end plastic crates. The low end stuff that will break more easily doens't have as many new Chinese bodies in it. And the real issue isn't just that it is the dead, but that the people have to jump in alive for various reasons of saving the recycling company money. So, what we have accomplished is true hell on earth. Throwing oneself into a vat of boiling plastic would be something that Satan and friends would come up with, and not the nice Satan of say South Park.

    My sources say Donald Trump is behind this, or I've deduced this on my own because I hate Trump and can tell that he is a patholgical liar by his speaches and how he runs the articles, and how his supporters are clearly brainwashed. As in, it might be useful to look for subliminal messages in Fox news since we know that the Conservative older people who support Trump all just watch Fox news and trust nothing else. Yet, if someone who doesn't normally watch Fox news watches it, it won't make any sense.

    It will help the situaiton to stop recyling and to try and store heavy plastic in your home or apartment or garage because what we want to do to help the Chinese people is to just bring up the value of a life that is given for plastic manufacture. The less plastic circulating the higher the value.

    Don't put the plastic in the ocean and don't bury it in the ground. I would advise against burning it because that is so bad for the environment. But how this ties back in again to Covid 19 is that I think Trump wants citizens of the US to be as desperate to work as the Chinese when they got tricked into these horrible contracts. And making US workers desperate is what Covid19 is all about.

    The country has been shut down long enough that the econmy will be a mess even if it is turned back on immediately and as completely as possible. But I think Trump wants to see if he can bring about the conditions of Marshall by Nov so that he can stay in office.

    I have ideas on how to survive this if the worst cases happen in the above. As in the US does collapse as a society, Marshall Law is imposed, and Trump tries to trick people into signing their children's lives away for a few dollars of insurnace money when the children jump in the vat of boiling plastic.

    I like plastic as a material. It is so functional and I think burning it is counterproductive. I think statues in plasti that commemorate the loss of life would be a better way to honor these people once Covid 19 is over and Trump is out of office and etc. But yes we do need to think of better ways to package materials if life must be lost either animal or human in such a disgusting manner.

    I think protesting, tring to get Trump out of office, but most of all challenging the shut down order is the way to have the best outcome for resisting Trump. But I'm still expecting that Trump will win and society will collapse, but I tend to be on the doom and gloom side.

  12. This case may seem a rare exception to most. Most want it to be just that so they don't have to consider the possibility that "their" govt., "their" protector, their chosen political system is irrational, unjust, cruel, and corrupt. That would be unthinkable, especially to cowards who refuse to think about issues that are complex, overwhelming, and frightening. This is how a horrible political system can be adopted worldwide. This explains war, poverty, systematic economic exploitation, and social instability.

    1. It happens because people lie about it.

      No criminal at any level can abide truth, reality.

      The solution is simple. Criminalize all lying.

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