Texas upholds sentence for woman who didn’t know she was ineligible to vote

A Texas appeals court on Thursday upheld a five-year prison sentence for a woman who was convicted of illegally voting even though she didn’t know she was ineligible when she went to the polls in 2016. The punishment for the Fort Worth woman, Crystal Mason, stirred national outrage because of its severity, prompting accusations that prosecutors were trying to intimidate Texans from voting.
Four years ago, Mason was on supervised release, similar to probation, for a federal felony conviction related to tax fraud. She didn’t know that Texas prohibits felons from voting until they finish their sentence entirely. Mason voted in the last presidential election at the urging of her mother and cast a provisional ballot when poll workers couldn’t find her name on the voter registration rolls. The ballot was never counted because Mason was not an eligible voter.

During her 2018 trial probation officials testified that they never told Mason she could not vote, but the appeals court said that didn’t matter. Mason was guilty, the court said, because she knew she was on supervised release. “Contrary to Mason’s assertion, the fact that she did not know she was legally ineligible to vote was irrelevant to her prosecution,” Justice Wade Birdwell wrote for a three-judge panel on Texas’ second court of appeals.
“These are difficult times for me, but I have faith that with the help of my family and God, right will prevail,” Mason said in a statement on Friday. “A punishment of five years in jail for doing what I thought was my civic duty, and just as I was getting my family’s life together, is not simply unfair, it’s a tragedy.”
The case has already taken a significant toll on Mason, who turns 45 on Saturday. After she was arrested in 2017, the life she had been working to rebuild since getting out of federal prison in 2015 crumbled. She lost her job, which provided the main source of income for her family, which includes three children, four of her brother’s children who she raised, and her grandchildren.
Because she was convicted of illegal voting while on supervised release, a federal judge had also sent her back to federal prison in late 2018, where she served several months. Her teenage daughter Taylor put off going to college to come home and run the household. The family depended in part on donations from a GoFundMe account. Since her conviction, Mason has become more politically active – she hosted a voter registration drive ahead of Texas’s primary.
Thomas Buser-Clancy, an attorney with the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who helped represent Mason, said Mason’s legal team will appeal. “Crystal submitted a provisional ballot that was not counted, she did not vote illegally,” he said. Mason will remain out of prison on bond while the appeal is pending.
Texas is one of 48 states that strip people with felony convictions of the right to vote, but the rules on when people regain the right to vote vary widely from state to state and are often extremely confusing, even to elections officials. The appeals court’s ruling was alarming because it confirmed that any voter in Texas who was unsure about their voter eligibility could be criminally prosecuted if they voted while ineligible, said Sasha Samberg-Champion, a former Department of Justice attorney who was not involved in the case.
“It should be obvious that this is a profoundly dangerous vision of the law,” he said. “This is not the legal standard that is applied by any state or country that takes the right to vote seriously.”
The decision to prosecute Mason was unusual. Since 2014, at least 12,668 people have voted using a provisional ballot in Tarrant county and 88% of them have been rejected because the voter was not eligible. Mason is the only voter who used a provisional ballot who was prosecuted for illegal voting.
The court’s opinion on Thursday goes further than what prosecutors argued during Mason’s trial. There, they argued that Mason read tiny print on an affidavit she signed before casting a provisional ballot and therefore knew she was ineligible. Mason said she never read the language and that the head election judge, who was also her neighbor, never alerted her to it. This week, the court said none of that mattered.
“Although Mason may not have known with certainty that being on supervised release as part of her federal conviction made her ineligible to vote under Texas law or that so voting is a crime … she voted anyway, signing a form affirming her eligibility in the process despite the fact that she was not certain,” Birdwell wrote.
Mason’s lawyers will ask the full appeals court to rehear the case, and then could appeal to the Texas court of criminal appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas. If Mason loses at that high court, her lawyers could ask the US supreme court to take the case.
“This ruling is a severe misinterpretation of the law,” said Alison Grinter, an attorney representing Mason. “It undercuts efforts to encourage voter turnout through the Help America Vote Act and punishes ordinary voters for attempting to fulfil their civic duty in a way that is at complete odds with our democratic principles.”
Texas upholds sentence for woman who didn’t know she was ineligible to vote Texas upholds sentence for woman who didn’t know she was ineligible to vote Reviewed by CUZZ BLUE on March 22, 2020 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Who cares she got all that free money to sit on her azz now stop your crying


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