TX Woman Sentenced To 5 Years For Inadvertent Illegal Vote Denied New Trial

PORTLAND, ME - NOVEMBER 7: Sue Vittner, right, walks her completed ballot to the scanning booth at the Merrill Auditorium voting station Tuesday morning. Turnout at the station has been “pretty good,” according to Election Warden Carol . By 8:20 a.m., the site had processed ballots from 95 voters, which Morrissette estimated was already three times as many voters who cast ballots at the same station during the May election. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)
Portland Press Herald/Portland Press Herald

The Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for an unintentionally illegal vote while on supervised release for a federal felony conviction has been denied a motion for a new trial by the same judge who initially slapped her with the harsh sentence.

According to a 16-page ruling Monday, Judge Ruben Gonzalez sided with the prosecutor’s claims against Crystal Mason — a jumbled set of arguments claiming the defendant missed deadlines and that the initial motion for a new trial did not provide sufficient evidence to prove bias. Mason has maintained that her illegal vote in the 2016 presidential election was an accident; she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to vote while on supervised release.

Mason’s attorney, Alison Grinter, plans to file an appeal, calling the case against Mason just another attempt to perpetuate a narrative of widespread voter fraud in the U.S.   

“We’re going to throw absolutely everything at it, and I think this is a real injustice,” she told TPM Tuesday. “It’s really classic voter intimidation. … If you prosecute every Crystal Mason out there, you might be able to drum up a case for voter fraud.”

In the motion for a new trial, Mason and Grinter argued that Mason did not actually vote in 2016 because her provisional ballot was rejected and at the time Mason believed she was eligible because she was on supervised release and not parole. Mason was convicted of tax fraud in 2011 and served 57 of her 60 months in prison. She had been out of prison for more than a year at the time of the incident.

Judge Gonzalez also rejected Mason’s claims that evidence of bias against her was not explored at trial. The witness who made the initial report about Mason’s vote, a man named Karl Diedrich, who was serving as the election judge at her precinct, is Mason’s neighbor. As the election judge, Diedrich testified that he gave Mason her provisional ballot, swore her to it and signed off on her ID.

But Gonzalez argued there was not evidence to support her claims of bias, citing court testimony, in which Dietrich claimed he did not know that Mason had been convicted of a felony. In testimony, Dietrich said he asked Mason to read the entire affidavit for a provisional ballot — which asks voters to answer questions about whether they have been convicted of a felony — and she “responded affirmatively when he held up his right hand and asked if she affirmed that all the information provided was accurate.”

“There was no evidence presented at the hearing on the defendant’s timely-filed motion for new trial that Mr. Dietrich ever harbored any type of ‘bias’ toward the defendant, much less ‘bias’ that contributed to the defendant voting illegally,” Gonzalez wrote in the ruling.

The judge also rejected arguments made in an amended motion for a new trial and an amicus letter brief from the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project because both were filed past the deadline. Grinter told TPM that she had very little time to file the new trial motion after she picked up Mason’s case. Gonzalez told her to file an amended motion, but the state wouldn’t approve it.

In the amicus letter filed in late May, the ACLU and Texas Civil Rights Project attempted to argue that slamming Mason with a five-year sentence would “chill participation in elections.”

The State’s prosecution sends a message that, rather than freely engaging in the fundamental democratic process of voting, citizens may vote only if they are certain that they have interpreted the complex Election Code correctly to determine their eligibility. Any mistake — no matter how innocent — will be penalized with the full force of the criminal law,” the groups wrote. “Such a message, if not rejected by this Court, will inevitably chill participation in elections and undermine the strength of our democracy.”

The ACLU and the state civil rights group also argued that an “apparent mistake” about eligibility was not sufficient evidence to determine “requisite criminal intent.”

While the civil rights groups’ arguments weren’t considered in court Monday, the groups also argued that the state law that led to Mason’s conviction has been overturned by 2002 federal statute that allows a person who believes they have a right to vote the opportunity to submit a provisional ballot in a federal election, placing the burden of proof on the state.

The Tarrant County prosecutor arguing the case against Mason reportedly did not assert that the civil rights groups’ arguments were incorrect, but said they shouldn’t be considered because of the missed deadline, according to the Star Telegram, which covers Fort Worth, Texas and the surrounding area.

Since the initial ruling, a petition arguing racial injustice and advocating that all charges against Mason, who is an African American, be dropped has garnered 38,000 signatures. Grinter said she is planning to appeal the ruling and should find out her deadlines for filing an appeal before the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth within the next few days.

Read the ruling below:

 

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