Thursday, September 8, 2011

Judicial performance ruling may change Mississippi DUI law

    Buried in a Mississippi Supreme Court judicial performance decision is a ruling that could make a big change in Mississippi's DUI laws.
    The case is Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Steve Little. Little is a justice court judge in Alcorn County, and has apparently had an outstanding record over the years.
    Little was accused of allowing the prosecutor to retire 16 DUI cases to the file in violation of state law. He had cooperated with the investigation, admitted his wrongdoing, and agreed to a 90-day suspension without pay.
    NOT SO FAST Said the Supreme Court. They said the judge shouldn't be punished at all because he didn't violate the law. The plain language of Section 63-11-39 states that “[T]he court having jurisdiction or the prosecutor shall not reduce any charge under this chapter to a lesser charge.” “Passing to the file” charges of DUI on recommendation of the county prosecutor does not, in and of itself, constitute willful misconduct, nor does it constitute a reduction of a charge. Accordingly, we respectfully disagree with the Commission’s findings.
    "Because Judge Little did not act without the authority of law, the Commission’s reference to this case as one of “ticket-fixing” is unfounded."
    The reason this may be big news is that pursuant to this ruling it is apparently neither unlawful for a prosecutor to retire a DUI case to the file, nor for a judge to allow it. It returns to the judges and prosecutors some of the discretion they had in the past.
    Whether you agree or disagree, it's unusual to see such a big change in state law showing up in a judicial performance decision.


NMissC said...

I'm honestly having trouble seeing this as a change of any sort. I read the opinion Thursday, and have now read your comment three times.

Col. Reb Sez said...

Thanks for your comment. If I understand correctly, it has been considered a violation of state law for a prosecutor to retire cases to the file, based on the statute which says that charges cannot be reduced. So when justice court judge Steve Little allowed the prosecutor to retire the cases to the file he was charged with violating this statute, and apparently the law was settled enough that he agreed to his punishment.

But the Court said he had every right to allow these cases to be retired to the file. The charges weren't reduced and it wasn't ticket fixing. It just seems to me to be a pretty big change in the way the statute has been interpreted. If not, why was Little brought up on charges in the first place and why did he agree to be punished?

nmisscommenter said...

I gather Judicial Performance has taken the position (not just in this case-- there was another within the last month) that a lot of retired cases indicate ticket fixing. They also got outfoxed in the other case in the findings of fact, a bit (it was the Alcorn County case where the jp interfered with another prosecution, got punished for that, but the charges of ticket fixing were dropped by the Supreme Court for lack of evidence).