FORT WORTH, Texas – A three-Judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas denied an appeal for Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County resident who was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot that was not counted in the November 2016 election. The civil rights organizations and criminal defense attorneys representing her will seek to have the full Court of Appeals review her appeal – the next step available in the process.
“These are difficult times for me, but I have faith that with the help of my family and God, right will prevail,” said Crystal Mason, defendant challenging her conviction. “A punishment of five years in jail for doing what I thought was my civic duty, and just as I was getting my family's life together, is not simply unfair, it's a tragedy.”
Mason is represented by the ACLU of Texas, ACLU Voting Rights Project, Texas Civil Rights Project, and her criminal defense attorneys Alison Grinter and Kim Cole. The arguments presented on appeal focused on Mason’s lack of knowledge that the state considered her ineligible to vote, and that the statutes under which she was punished were not clear enough to give any voter in her situation adequate notice that what she did was unlawful.
“We are disappointed with the decision and believe that it is wrong on the law,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas who presented the oral argument. “Crystal submitted a provisional ballot that was not counted, she did not vote illegally. We will continue to fight on behalf of Crystal by asking the entire Second Court of Appeals to re-hear this decision. Crystal is an amazing person and citizen who showed unwavering strength throughout this ordeal. We are proud and humbled to stand beside her in Court and will continue to fight for justice for her.”
“This ruling is a severe misinterpretation of the law, said Alison Grinter, criminal defense attorney for Crystal Mason. “It undercuts efforts to encourage voter turnout through the Help America Vote Act and punishes ordinary voters for attempting to fulfill their civic duty in a way that is at complete odds with our democratic principles. We will continue fighting for Crystal in her appeal and will continue fighting for a system that promotes our right to vote—not one that spreads fear throughout communities through unjustified prosecutions of right minded free people.”
“Voting in Texas is already too confusing and, given the current crises, it's about to get more confusing,” said Beth Stevens, legal director for TCRP Voting Rights Program. “The worst possible message that could be sent right now is that you can go to jail for trying to participate. We continue to stand with Crystal and will keep fighting for her.”
“This is not the end,” said Kim Cole, criminal defense attorney for Crystal Mason. “Our community has stood by Crystal from the beginning and will never lose hope. We will continue to fight with Crystal so that she gets the justice she deserves.”
“Stories like Crystal's innocent act resulting in such an outrageous sentence are a miscarriage of justice, said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. “Crystal did exactly what she was permitted to do under federal law. We will continue this fight.”