A Mississippi Man Is Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison. His Crime? Having a Cell Phone in Jail

Illustration for article titled A Mississippi Man Is Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison. His Crime? Having a Cell Phone in Jail
Photo: Mississippi Department of Corrections (via AP)

If you needed any more evidence that black people are more harshly punished by the legal system than their white counterparts, look no further than the case of a 39-year-old father of three, Willie Nash.


According to NBC News, Nash was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison. He didn’t hurt anyone, sell drugs, or steal anything. He simply had his cell phone while he was in jail on a misdemeanor charge. He was caught after handing it to a guard and asking if it could be charged. The guard then took the phone and give it to the sheriff’s deputy. According to Mississippi law, it’s a felony offense for inmates in a correctional facility to possess a cell phone and it carries a sentence of 3 to 15 years. In August 2018, a jury found Nash guilty of breaking the law and a judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison. Over a cellphone.

Nash didn’t appeal his verdict but did challenge his sentence by saying it was “grossly disproportionate to the crime” and was in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. On Jan. 9, Nash’s conviction and sentence were made official by the Mississippi Supreme Court with an expected release date of February 2029. Justice James. D Maxwell II said in a court document that while Nash’s sentencing was harsh it was within the statutory range for his offense. Justice Leslie D. King would counter in an opinion that while the court may have reached the correct result under the law, he was concerned it was “a failure of our criminal justice system on multiple levels.”

King focused on the fact that an officer testified that all inmates booked into jail are strip-searched and said:

“Yet Nash went into the jail with a large smartphone that would have likely been impossible to hide during a strip search. It seems problematic to potentially allow someone into the jail with a cell phone and then to prosecute that person for such an action.”

King believes that since the crime was victimless and he was using his phone to simply talk to his wife instead of, you know, committing actual crimes, the court could simply have taken a rehabilitative approach as opposed to handing down such a hard sentence.

This looks to be a failure of the actual guards in the jail. If they allowed him into the jail with a phone, then that’s on them for not upholding the law. I’m pretty sure if Nash knew what he was doing was a felony he wouldn’t willingly ask a guard to charge his phone. I could always be wrong but, come on now, y’all.


There have been people appealing to the Governor of Mississippi Tate Reeves to step in and commute Nash’s sentence. I truly hope he does because this seems like a really small mistake that the legal system is exploiting to incarcerate yet another black man for far too long.

The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, wheelin' and dealin' nerd of The Root.



He was caught after handing it to a guard and asking if it could be charged.” 
That was dumb.
Where did he think he was at a hotel?