Thursday, August 17, 2017
The Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge who locked up a defendant who had already served his sentence.
Lee County Justice Court Judge John H. Sheffield ordered James Harper to serve six months in a work center for a conviction Harper already had appealed to a higher court, and for which Harper already had satisfied his sentence. Because under the facts of this case, Judge Sheffield’s conduct was not due to an innocent mistake, it amounts to judicial misconduct. So we impose a public reprimand, a 120-day suspension without pay, and a $3,000 fine, and assess all costs of the proceedings to Judge Sheffield.
The case involved a DUI conviction that had been appealed and the sentence completed when
On April 9, 2013, Harper again was arrested for DUI in Lee County. At that point he was told he could not post bond until he resolved a matter with Judge Sheffield. The next day, Harper appeared before Judge Sheffield, who accused Harper of failing to pay the fines imposed for the 1996 justice-court convictions.
Despite Harper’s protestation that he had appealed to county court, lost, and paid his fines—and despite the fact that Judge Sheffield had with him the justice-court case files for Harper’s earlier convictions, both of which contained Harper’s notice of appeal and the county-court notification—Judge Sheffield sentenced Harper to serve six months at the Lee County Work Center for the DUI conviction. Harper served four months in the work center before being released due to an infection requiring hospitalization.
The court affirmed the Commission on Judicial Conduct's misconduct findings and noted that the judge had shown "anything but competence."
On sanction, the court noted the judge's positive reputation but also prior discipline.
Judge Sheffield’s misconduct caused Harper to serve four months in the Lee County Work Center. He was released when a serious infection required his hospitalization. We have recognized that illegal incarceration is “one of the most severe forms of harm.”
...Judge Sheffield’s failure to take personal responsibility for his error constitutes an aggravating factor, and we find no mitigating factors for his misconduct. In sum, this Court finds that the Commission’s recommended sanction is an appropriate one. We find this case similar to Littlejohn. The severity of the harm to Harper requires suspension from office.