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Texas Appeals Court Overturns Crystal Mason’s Conviction and 5-Year Sentence for Illegal Voting

Crystal Mason captured national attention following her conviction for casting a vote while under supervised release for felony tax fraud. She maintained that she was unaware of her ineligibility to vote.

On Thursday, a Texas appeals court reversed Crystal Mason’s conviction for illegal voting, for which she had been sentenced to five years in prison. This decision, rendered by the Second Court of Appeals based in Tarrant County, formally clears her of the felony voting charge. The court ruled that there was no evidence indicating Mason was aware of her ineligibility to vote at the time she cast her ballot, a crucial condition for convicting someone of illegal voting.

Throughout the lengthy legal battle spanning seven years, Mason consistently asserted her lack of knowledge about her voting eligibility status. She expressed her relief in a statement on Thursday, stating that the arduous ordeal, which garnered global attention, had been devastating for her.

“I am overjoyed to see my faith rewarded today,” Mason said. “I found myself thrust into this fight for voting rights and will continue to advocate to ensure that no one else undergoes the hardships I’ve endured over the past six years—a political maneuver where the voting rights of minorities are under threat.”

Mason’s case became emblematic amid a broader Republican-led crackdown on voter fraud, fueled in part by unfounded claims of widespread illegal voting.

“For over six years, I have cried and prayed every night, hoping to remain a free Black woman,” Mason remarked. “I extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone whose unwavering dedication and support sustained me during this challenging period, and I eagerly anticipate celebrating this momentous occasion with my loved ones.”

Initially, the Second Court of Appeals had upheld Mason’s conviction. However, two years ago, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals instructed the court to reassess the sufficiency of evidence against Mason, citing an error in failing to demand proof of her actual knowledge that voting while on supervised release constituted a crime.

Thomas Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, expressed relief at the court’s decision, emphasizing the detrimental impact of the criminal prosecution on Mason’s life and asserting the significance of the ruling for democracy.

“While the harms caused by the criminal prosecution can never be fully undone, this decision stands as vindication for Ms. Mason and a triumph for our democracy, which flourishes when individuals can participate in the civic process without fear,” Buser-Clancy stated.

Mason’s legal predicament originated in 2016 when, upon discovering her absence from the voter roll, she submitted a provisional ballot in the presidential election based on advice from a poll worker. However, her ballot was invalidated due to her ineligibility to vote while still under supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. Subsequently, she was arrested several months later.

The crux of Mason’s prosecution revolved around an affidavit she signed before casting her provisional ballot, affirming that she had completed all punishments related to her felony conviction. A trial court convicted her of illegal voting, a second-degree state felony, after a poll worker testified to witnessing Mason meticulously perusing the affidavit. However, Mason contended that she had not read the entire document. Testimony from a supervisor at the probation office overseeing her release corroborated Mason’s claim that she had not been informed of her voting ineligibility.

In its 2022 ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals clarified that Texas election law mandates individuals to possess knowledge of their ineligibility to vote to be convicted of illegal voting. The appeals court, in its decision, underscored lawmakers’ intention not to convict voters acting in good faith.

Thursday’s ruling by the Tarrant County court affirmed this principle, stating that the evidence presented was insufficient to demonstrate that Mason had knowingly violated voting laws.

“We conclude that the evidence in this case does not establish that Mason was aware she was ineligible to vote, and hence, cannot support her conviction for illegal voting,” the court’s decision concluded.

Emphasizing that they are not prosecuting individuals who inadvertently vote incorrectly, Tarrant County prosecutors reiterated that Mason’s case pivoted on intent and her acknowledgment by signing the affidavit.

“In essence, the crux of the State’s argument rested on Mason’s reading of the affidavit,” the decision from Tarrant County elaborated. “However, even assuming she read it, the evidence presented—when considered in its entirety—fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mason was cognizant of her ineligibility to vote while casting a provisional ballot during her supervised release period following her federal incarceration.”

Staff
Staff
Written by RA News staff.

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