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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ordered a lower-level appeals court to reconsider the controversial illegal voting conviction of Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a preliminary vote in the 2016 election while being released under supervision was up for a federal conviction.
The state’s last criminal court ruled Wednesday that a lower court of appeals wrongly upheld Mason’s conviction, concluding that it was “irrelevant” to Mason’s prosecution that she did not know she was ineligible to vote was. The verdict opens the door for Mason’s conviction to be finally overturned.
Mason’s attorneys turned to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after the Tarrant County Second Court of Appeals found her knowledge that she was released under supervision and therefore ineligible to vote was sufficient for a wrongful conviction. Mason said she knew she was not eligible to vote and would not knowingly risk her freedom.
On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the lower court “erred in not requiring proof of it.” [Mason] actually knew it was a crime for her to vote during a supervised release.” They returned the case to the lower court with orders to assess “the sufficiency” of the evidence against Mason.
“I am pleased that the court has acknowledged issues with my conviction and I stand ready to defend myself against these gruesome allegations,” Mason said in a statement released Wednesday. “My life has been turned upside down in what was, at worst, an innocent misunderstanding of casting a provisional ballot that wasn’t even counted. I was called to this struggle for the right to vote and I will continue to serve my community.”
Mason’s case dates back to 2016 when Mason, after discovering that she was not on the electoral roll, submitted a provisional ballot in that year’s presidential election on the advice of a poll worker. Her ballot was rejected because she was ineligible to vote because of a federal tax fraud conviction while she was still released under custody. But she was arrested a few months later.
Mason’s prosecution depended on an affidavit she signed before casting her provisional ballot, which required individuals to swear that “if I am a criminal, I will void all my sentences, including any prison sentence, suspended sentence, suspended sentence, parole or pardon granted. ”
A court judge convicted her of illegal voting, then a second-degree federal crime, after a poll worker testified that he had watched Mason read and run his finger over every line of an affidavit. Mason said she did not read the entire affidavit. At the trial, a parole officer who oversaw her release testified that no one from the parole board told her she was still ineligible to vote.
In Wednesday’s decision, the court ruled that Texas election law requires individuals to know they are ineligible to vote in order to be convicted of illegal voting.
“To interpret the law so that a person may be guilty without ‘knowing that the person is ineligible to vote’ is to disregard the words intended by the legislature,” the court wrote. “It turns the knowledge requirement into a kind of negligence scheme where a person can be at fault by not taking reasonable care to ensure they are eligible to vote.”
The court ruled against Mason on two other counts on Wednesday. She dismissed her arguments that the lower court interpreted the state’s illegal voting law in a way that criminalized the casting of preliminary ballots in good faith and that the appeals court erroneously found that she “voted in an election.” , although her provisional ballot was never counted.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling marks the latest twist in an indictment that has plunged Mason into the political morass surrounding the Republican-led crackdown on voter fraud, fueled in part by unsubstantiated allegations of rampant illegal voting. The lack of evidence that illegal votes are being cast on a widespread basis has drawn attention to a handful of high-profile law enforcement actions against people of color, including Mason, who is black.
Tarrant County prosecutors insisted they don’t criminalize people who merely vote by mistake, saying Mason’s case involved intent. The case against her has revolved around the affidavit she signed when she submitted her provisional ballot.
A spokesman for Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the legal landscape underlying Tarrant County’s prosecution changed while the case was under review.
Over the past year, the Texas Legislature included several amendments to the Electoral Code’s provisions on illegal voting in its comprehensive new election law. The law, known as Senate Bill 1, added new language that says Texans cannot be convicted of illegal voting “just because the person signed a provisional ballot,” but will require other evidence to confirm that you have knowingly attempted to cast an unlawful vote.
The Legislature’s amendment to the Election Code — along with a resolution passed in the Texas House of Representatives regarding the interpretation of the Illegal Voting Act — are “convincing authority” over the lower court’s interpretation of the law men rea request was wrong, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on Wednesday.
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