FORT WORTH, Texas — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent Crystal Mason’s case back to the Second Court of Appeals for further evaluation Wednesday morning. Mason, a Black mother of three from Fort Worth, faces five years in prison for submitting a provisional ballot that was never counted.
Texas’s highest criminal court ruled that the State had to show that Ms. Mason actually realized she was ineligible to vote when she submitted a provisional ballot in the November 2016 election. It sent the case back to the lower court to decide that issue. Mason was convicted of illegal voting despite believing she was fulfilling her civic duty. She did not know the state considered her ineligible to vote and completed, in accordance with the law, a provisional ballot that was never counted.
“I am pleased that the court acknowledged issues with my conviction, and am ready to defend myself against these cruel charges,” said Crystal Mason. “My life has been upended for what was, at worst, an innocent misunderstanding of casting a provisional ballot that was never even counted. I have been called to this fight for voting rights and will continue to serve my community.”
The decision comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, the Texas Civil Rights Project, criminal defense attorney Alison Grinter Allen, and attorney Kim Cole asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to review Mason’s previous conviction.
“We believe that ultimately what is right will prevail and will continue to support Ms. Mason as she battles this miscarriage of justice,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Ms. Mason never would have risked her liberty by submitting a provisional ballot if she knew the State considered her ineligible to vote. She followed the rules, committed no crime, yet was slapped with an egregious 5-year sentence. We hope the court system soon will overturn this unwarranted conviction. Ms. Mason and her family have fought this for far too long.”
“This court's decision today gives us hope not just for Ms. Mason, but for the broader fight for voting rights in Texas,” said Hani Mirza, Voting Rights Program Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “We remain hopeful that justice will prevail, and show that in a democracy, innocent mistakes about voting cannot be subject to harsh criminal penalties.”
“We are grateful for Crystal’s continued freedom and for the progress made in the fight so far. There is more work ahead in this fight, but we aren’t tired. The just result is clear and we have faith that Crystal and all Texans will see a day when they can vote in good faith and without fear that a felony prosecution could be behind any mistake or misunderstanding,” said Alison Grinter Allen, criminal defense attorney for Ms. Mason.
“Crystal should never have been convicted. In fact, she should not have even been charged with a crime for at worst an innocent mistake protected by federal law. Now there is an opportunity for justice to prevail. Innocent mistakes can happen and the State should not be in the business of making people fearful to vote. I trust that the court will accurately interpret and apply the law and overturn Crystal’s conviction,” said Kim T. Cole, attorney for Ms. Mason.
“The court’s ruling today gives us hope that the correct outcome will prevail. Her conviction and the sentence she received were grave injustices,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. “We won’t stop fighting for Crystal and the right to vote.”