Texas Court Kicks Back 5-Year Sentence for Illegal Vote

Crystal Mason says she'll fight 'these cruel charges' again
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2021 8:41 AM CDT
Updated May 11, 2022 7:30 PM CDT
For Woman Given 5 Years for Illegal Vote, a New Appeal
Crystal Mason speaks to the media in downtown Dallas on April 17, 2018.   (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Update: A court made a mistake in upholding the conviction of a Texas woman who was given a five-year prison sentence for casting a ballot when she wasn't eligible to vote, and it needs to take another look at the case, a higher court ruled Wednesday. The court should have required proof that Crystal Mason knew she was committing a crime, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said, per the Guardian. The most recent ruling had said whether Mason knew it or not wasn't relevant. Mason issued a statement saying she'll defend herself "against these cruel charges." Our story from March 31 follows:

The highest criminal appeals court in Texas will review the high-profile case of a woman sentenced to five years in prison for voting while ineligible. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rarely reviews non-death penalty convictions. But it announced Wednesday that it would review legal briefs, but not oral arguments, in the case of Crystal Mason, reports the Texas Tribune. The Fort Worth woman, now 45, was on supervised release—akin to probation—for felony tax fraud when her mother encouraged her to vote in the 2016 election. She was not on the voter registration roll at her Tarrant County polling place but filled out a provisional ballot with help from a poll worker, unaware she's wasn't eligible. The back of the ballot, which Mason didn't read, included an affidavit stating convicted felons in Texas are barred from voting until they complete their full sentence, including any term of supervision.

Though her ballot was one of more than 11,000 of 12,668 provisional ballots cast in Tarrant County between 2014 and 2019 to be rejected for ineligibility, the Guardian reports the Black woman appears to be the only one who ended up prosecuted. An appeals court later upheld her sentence, finding "the fact that she did not know she was legally ineligible to vote was irrelevant." But Mason's legal team, including the American Civil Liberties Union, hopes the highest criminal appeals court will find Mason didn't intentionally vote illegally and didn't really commit the crime since her vote wasn't counted, per NBC News. "I'm hopeful that the judges will understand that any Texan, like me, who at most unknowingly makes an innocent mistake, should not be punished for it," says Mason, who is out of prison on an appeal bond. (More voting stories.)

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