State's High Court May Change Criminal Procedures, Getting Public Comment | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

State's High Court May Change Criminal Procedures, Getting Public Comment

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Ann Lamar chaired the Supreme Court Rules Committee on Criminal Practice and Procedure, which reviewed 34 rule change proposals over the past five years. Photo courtesy Administrative Office of the Courts

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Ann Lamar chaired the Supreme Court Rules Committee on Criminal Practice and Procedure, which reviewed 34 rule change proposals over the past five years. Photo courtesy Administrative Office of the Courts

— After 11 years of review, the Mississippi Supreme Court is seeking public comment on its proposed new rules for criminal-law procedures. The rules reflect changes in several parts of the state's criminal law, from charges and warrants to sentencing and probation.

An independent study group made up of attorneys, former judges, and law professors from around the state reviewed for six years the existing criminal court rules and drafted potential changes. Then a committee of Mississippi Supreme Court, led by Justice Ann Lamar, justices reviewed those suggestions over the past five years.

"We are looking forward to input from the bench and bar and looking forward to the culmination of this project," Lamar said in a press release. "It is our hope that it is going to be a very valuable tool for members of the bar and the judiciary. We welcome comments and input from them."

The proposed rules clarify and emphasize the rights and rules of those being arrested. For example, a person under arrest should be (and under current law technically is) afforded the opportunity to make a phone call.

"The opportunity to make a telephone call represents the minimum requirement ... fundamental fairness dictates that a person who has been taken into custody be allowed to communicate to another that the accused is being held by the police and charged with a crime," a comment in the new rules says.

The new rules will affect criminal-law procedures in justice, municipal, county and circuit courts around the state. Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. served on the committee with Lamar along with Justice Jim Kitchens and Justice James Maxwell. In a press release, Chief Justice Waller said the rule changes will promote uniformity and fairness across the state.

"It's an important advancement to organize and bring uniformity to the criminal justice process," he said in the release.

Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey who served on the independent research committee said the changes will make criminal-law procedures uniform everywhere in the state. Currently, they are not.

"There's just no consistency from place to place," Steffey told the Jackson Free Press.

Steffey said the changes will update outdated practices regarding plea bargaining and bail as well as eliminate the possibility that one judge can determine how to interpret a rule and run their court in a certain way.

The deadline to submit public comments on the rules is Nov. 7. The Mississippi Supreme Court is taking comments in writing sent to the Clerk of the Supreme Court at P.O. Box 249, Jackson, Mississippi 39205.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com.

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