June 16, 2021

Did a Black Woman Get Prison for Illegal Voting, While a White Man Got Probation?

In May 2021, U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, published a commonly shared meme that contrasted the punishments bied far to a white guy and a black woman, in two widely publicized voter fraud cases. The meme contained the following text:

Bruce Bartman, white man in Pennsylvania who unlawfully voted for Trump on behalf of his dead mother, gets 5 years probation.
Crystal Mason, a Black lady in Texas who voted while on monitored release when she didnt know she was disqualified, gets 5 years in jail..
There are two justice systems in America..

In December 2020, prosecutors set out the following accusations about Bartman:.

Khannas post failed to mention some significant differences between them, offering readers the incorrect impression that race was the only possible description for the diverse punishments handed out to Bartman and Mason. Clearly, Masons penalty– 5 years in jail– was more serious than Bartmans– five years probation. By contrast, Mason was charged with unlawful voting, which is a second-degree felony in Texas. Unlike in Pennsylvania, the appropriate sentencing standards in Texas did not allow for Mason to be provided probation instead of a prison sentence. If Masons prior felony conviction set off the sentencing improvement discussed above, then that would represent a 3rd considerable difference between her case, and that of Bartman, who had no previous criminal convictions.

At the time this reality check was released, Masons appeal was still prior to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and waiting for adjudication.

Masons Appeals Against Conviction.

Clearly, Masons punishment– 5 years in prison– was more severe than Bartmans– five years probation. A number of possible factors exist for those disparate outcomes, but from the start, it must be noted that we have found no proof to recommend that the difference in the race of the 2 offenders contributed. Proof is doing not have to suggest that other distinctions, such as gender– Bartman is male and Mason is female– might have had an effect..

Its possible that Mason also fell foul of Texas repeat culprit statute and got an increased sentence due to her previous felony conviction for tax fraud. Section 12.42 of the Texas Penal Code states that:.

A person commits an offense if the person:.
( 1) attempts or votes to enact an election in which the individual understands the individual is not eligible to vote …

She did not in fact vote, however rather cast a provisional tally that was not ultimately counted.
She was not ineligible to vote, due to obscurities over the nature and requirements of the guidance she was under at the time.
Even if, for the sake of argument, she was ineligible to vote, she did not understand she was disqualified to vote.
” Supervision” is so slightly defined, in the appropriate Texas law, that law is unconstitutional.

Mason asked the court for a brand-new trial, which was turned down, and after that filed an appeal against her conviction before the Court of Appeals for the 2nd District of Texas. Lawyers from the ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project joined her legal group, and the League of Women Voters submitted amicus curiae briefs in support of Mason..

Bartman was founded guilty on all three counts which, in concept, left him susceptible to a combined prison sentence of approximately 19 years. Pennsylvania sentencing standards recommend non-custodial penalties for wrongdoers convicted of perjury with no past history of felony convictions. A search of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania site revealed no previous convictions for Bartman..

In general, the meme properly represented the fundamental facts of each case. Nevertheless, Khannas post stopped working to mention some significant differences between them, providing readers the incorrect impression that race was the only possible description for the disparate penalties distributed to Bartman and Mason. As a result, were issuing a score of “Mixture.”.

The Differences Between Bartman and Masons Cases.

If it is shown on the trial of a felony of the 2nd degree that the defendant has formerly been finally founded guilty of a felony …, on conviction the offender shall be punished for a felony of the first degree.

Texas law states that, in order to be eligible to vote, a person can not be a convicted felon who has not yet served their sentence, “including any regard to incarceration, guidance, or parole, or completed a period of probation bought by any court.”.

The district courts ruling effectively criminalized Mason for even casting a provisional ballot– which clashes with the federal Help America Vote Act– instead of the repercussion being simply that her tally was not counted.
She got inadequate counsel in her criminal trial.

In February 2017, a grand jury in Tarrant County, Texas indicted Mason on one count of second-degree felony unlawful ballot. Texas law defines prohibited voting as follows:.

In choosing to enforce the sentences simultaneously, rather than consecutively, Judge Pagano appears to have taken into consideration other mitigating factors, including the truth that Bartman revealed contrition for his actions and pleaded guilty.

An individual is guilty of perjury, a felony of the third degree, if in any main proceeding he makes a false declaration under oath or comparable affirmation, or swears or verifies the reality of a declaration previously made, when the declaration is product and he does not think it to be true.

Under Texas law, the statutory sentencing range set out for second-degree felonies is between 2 and 20 years.

What Bartman Did, and How He Was Punished.

By contrast, Mason was charged with unlawful ballot, which is a second-degree felony in Texas. So right off the bat, the offense of which she was convicted is graded greater than Bartmans offenses. Additionally, unlike in Pennsylvania, the appropriate sentencing standards in Texas did not permit Mason to be provided probation rather of a jail sentence. In the relevant statute, the sentencing variety for a second-degree felony is set out as between 2 and 20 years in jail.

In his accompanying Facebook post, Khanna included: “How is this reasonable? The difference is in black and white,” with the clear tip being that the only or essential distinction between the two cases was the racial identities of the accuseds..

The meme (shown above) credited Ari Berman, a journalist who writes about voting rights for Mother Jones, and who initially published the tweet on which Khannas meme was based.

On the surface, Masons more serious punishment appears even more challenging to discuss, considered that, as the meme explains, her actions appear to have been the outcome of a real lack of awareness about her eligibility to vote, and included what appears to have actually been a good-faith provisional ballot, whereas Bartman headed out of his method to fraudulently get, and submit, a mail-in tally on behalf of his mother, whom he understood was dead..

Because perjury is noted in the standards as a third-degree felony, that yields an Offense Gravity Score of 5. Since Bartman had no previous convictions, his Prior Record Score was 0. When those elements are participated in the matrix, it yields a suggested penalty of “Restorative Sanctions” (RS), or in other words, probation:.

A survey employee offered Mason a provisional ballot, which she finished and submitted. The provisionary ballot consists of an affidavit in which the potential voter states, to name a few things, that they are not a convicted felon or, if they are, they have actually finished their penalty, consisting of any period of supervision..

Thats where our fact check focuses. We will evaluate how properly the meme presented the realities of each case and take a look at whether any other appropriate elements existed which might have resulted in such different results.

The 2nd Court of Appeals turned down those arguments. In a viewpoint affirming the district courts conviction, Justice Wade Birdwell held that:.

Mason then petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to hear her case, and the court agreed in March 2021, setting out the following three legal questions to be adjudicated:.

Under Pennsylvania law, perjury is specified as follows:.

In March 2012, Mason and her then-husband Sanford Hobbs, who collectively ran a tax preparation service in Everman, Texas, were convicted of tax scams in the U.S. District Court for the northern district of Texas. Both pleaded guilty and both got a sentence of five years in jail, to be followed by three years of supervised release..

In August 2020, he registered his mother and mother-in-law, both dead, as Republican citizens in Pennsylvania.
He asked for an absentee tally on behalf of his mother..
In October 2020, election authorities in Delaware County sent out an absentee ballot resolved to Bartmans mom.
Bartman fraudulently filled it out in his mothers name, casting a choose then-President Donald Trump, and mailed it back.

Bartman was charged with two counts of perjury, which is a third-degree felony, and one count of unlawful ballot, which is a first-degree misdemeanor. In Pennsylvania, sentences are determined by reference to a somewhat complex matrix which determines a sentence variety based on two primary factors to consider: the “Offense Gravity Score” and the “Prior Record Score.”.

Illegal voting is defined as follows:.

Nevertheless, 2 other essential differences existed between the cases: how the offenses are graded and the sentencing guidelines in place in each state..

Any person who tries or votes to vote at any primary or election, understanding that he does not have all the certifications of an elector at such main or election, as stated in this act, will be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, and, upon conviction thereof, will be sentenced to pay a fine not surpassing 10 thousand ($ 10,000) dollars, or to go through an imprisonment of not more than five (5) years, or both, in the discretion of the court.

Mason was implicated of ballot while being aware that, because of her felony conviction and ongoing monitored release, she was disqualified to do so. She waived her right to a jury trial and pleaded not guilty, but in March 2018, Ruben Gonzalez, District Court judge in Tarrant County, Texas, convicted Mason, then aged 43, and sentenced her to 5 years in prison.

Therefore, Judge George Pagano sentenced Bartman to five years probation for each of the three offenses, to run concurrently. He likewise ordered his de-registration as a voter, and purchased him to pay more than $3,500 in costs..

What Mason Did, and How She Was Punished.

In November 2015, Mason was launched from jail to a re-entry midway home, and was further released into the neighborhood in August 2016. On Nov. 8, 2016, she traveled to her local ballot location to enact that years election. Since of her felony conviction, her voter registration had been canceled.

Court precedents suggested that Mason did not have to know, specifically, that she was disqualified to vote, but merely be aware of the underlying conviction that made her ineligible, in order to have broken the law.
The regard to federal guidance being served by Mason at the time she voted plainly suggested that she had not “fully released” her penalty for the tax fraud conviction and was therefore ineligible to vote.
Definitions of “vote”, found in court precedents and elsewhere in Texas law, need only casting a tally, not that a ballot be subsequently counted. For that reason, Mason did in fact vote, no matter whether her provisional ballot was ultimately counted.
The Help America Vote Act protects a voters right to cast a provisionary ballot, voters are still mostly responsible for confirming that they are eligible to vote, prior to they do so.
Mason did not get ineffective counsel at her trial.

Quickly, Mason made the following arguments:.

If that was the case for Mason, the judge would have had even less discretion to provide her a lower sentence, considering that the statutory sentencing range for a first-degree felony in Texas is between five years and life in jail (as opposed to between 2 and 20 years, for a second-degree felony).

Is it in fact irrelevant whether Mason knew, specifically, that she was legally ineligible to vote?
Does the Help America Vote Act foreclose an analysis of Texas “illegal ballot” law as criminalizing the submission of good-faith provisionary tallies?
Does Texas “unlawful ballot” statute actually mean that sending a provisionary tally that is later turned down counts as voting?

Snopes asked Tarrant County District Court for any files, associated to the case against Mason, in which the judge set out his reasoning for the five-year prison sentence. We did not get any such documents, so we cant say for sure whether the judge needed to pick from within a second-degree or first-degree felony sentencing range. If Masons previous felony conviction set off the sentencing enhancement discussed above, then that would represent a 3rd substantial distinction between her case, and that of Bartman, who had no previous criminal convictions.

On April 30, 2021, Bruce Leland Bartman, 70, pleaded guilty to 2 counts of third-degree felony perjury and one count of first-degree misdemeanor illegal ballot, prior to the Court of Common Pleas in Delaware County, Pennsylvania..