Texas appeals court overturns voter fraud conviction for woman on probation

(Andy Jacobsohn/Associated Press)

Texas appeals court overturns voter fraud conviction for woman on probation


March 29, 2024

A Texas appeals court has overturned a Fort Worth woman’s voter fraud conviction and five-year prison sentence for casting an illegal provisional ballot.

Crystal Mason was unaware that her probation for a previous felony conviction in 2016 made her ineligible to vote, the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled Thursday.

Appearing almost in tears at times, Mason said during a news conference on Friday that it has been seven years since the vote. “I’ve been out for six years on appeal, one foot in, one foot out, not knowing if I would go back to prison,” Mason said.

When I got the news…I was just overwhelmed with joy. It’s been a long journey, she said. I cried and screamed when I got the news.”

Prosecutors maintained that Mason read and signed an affidavit attached to the preliminary ballot confirming that she would have fully served her sentence if convicted of a crime.

Judge Wade Birdwell wrote that reading these words on the affidavit did not prove that Mason knowingly cast the provisional ballot illegally.

“Even if she had read them, they are not sufficient… to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she actually knew that her supervised release after serving her full federal prison sentence made her ineligible to vote by provisional ballot to be issued, according to the decision.

Thomas Buser-Clancy, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, called the ruling a victory for democracy.

Ms. Mason should never have been prosecuted for what was, at worst, an innocent misunderstanding, Buser-Clancy said. He noted that the vote was not counted because she was not a registered voter, and said the matter should have ended there.

Mason, a former tax attorney, had been convicted in 2012 on charges related to inflating client refunds and had served nearly three years of a five-year prison sentence. She was then placed under supervised release for a period of three years and ordered to pay $4.2 million in restitution, according to court documents.

Due to the initial conviction, Mason was sent back to federal prison for ten months to serve the original sentence and was given an additional two years of supervised probation.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals previously ordered the trial court to consider whether there was sufficient evidence to convict Mason, ruling that Texas election law requires individuals to know they are ineligible to vote in order to be convicted of illegal voting .

Buser-Clancy said the state could ask the Court of Criminal Appeals to review the case, but he hopes prosecutors will accept the ruling.

Prosecutors did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

Kim Cole, Mason’s attorney, called the prosecution malicious and politically motivated.

The Public Prosecution Service specifically stated that they wanted to send a message to voters. They deliberately put Crystal through six years of pure hell, Cole said in the statement.

Mason’s long sentence made both Republican and Democratic lawmakers uneasy. In 2021, after passing a new ballot measure over Democrats’ objections, the Republican Party-controlled state House passed a resolution stating that someone should not be criminally imprisoned for making an innocent mistake.

Critics of states’ voting laws argue that Texas has targeted Black and Latino voters who tend to vote for Democrats so Republicans can stay in power.

The Sentencing Project, which advocates reducing sentences and expanding voting rights for felons nationwide, says Texas leads the nation in disenfranchising 450,000 citizens, or 2.5% of the state’s voting-age population , about two-thirds of whom are black or Latino.

Democratic Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Mason’s case highlights the systemic challenges marginalized voters face when trying to cast their ballots.

While her justification is a step in the right direction, it highlights the urgent need for comprehensive electoral reforms to ensure fair access to the ballot box for all citizens, Reynolds said in a statement.

Texas is one of dozens of states that ban felons from voting even after they leave prison. In 22 other states, felons can vote as soon as they get out of prison, and in two states, Vermont and Maine, felons can vote while still in prison, the ACLU said.

Attorney Alison Grinter Allen said she doesn’t know how many Texas residents are ineligible because they are on parole or still owe fines, but she said the state’s laws confuse people.

A large number of people on probation in Texas are on probation prior to sentencing, and those people are all eligible to vote,” Allen said.” So a lot of people get sucked into believing that they can’t vote because they’re on some kind of probationary period that’s not disqualifying.

Miller writes for the Associated Press.


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