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Kiriakou writes: "Crystal Mason voted in the 2016 election. She made no secret of it. She went to the polling station, showed her driver’s license, and cast a provisional ballot. Imagine her shock when she was then arrested and charged with felony voter fraud. Last week, she was sentenced to five years in a state prison. For voting."

Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years for illegally voting in 2016. Mason is a convicted felon who told the court that she did not know the law prohibited her from voting until she served all of her sentence, including federal supervised release. (photo: Crystal Mason)
Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years for illegally voting in 2016. Mason is a convicted felon who told the court that she did not know the law prohibited her from voting until she served all of her sentence, including federal supervised release. (photo: Crystal Mason)

In the Crystal Mason Case, What Was the Intent of the State of Texas?

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

02 April 18


was sickened last week to read about the case of Crystal Mason of Tarrant County, Texas. She’s a 43-year-old tax preparer who, in 2011, was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to tax fraud for inflating income tax deductions for her clients. She was sentenced to five years in prison and released in 2016. While still on federal probation, she registered to vote in Texas. Nobody—not the Bureau of Prisons, not her probation officer, not the court, nobody—told her that felons may not vote in Texas.

Crystal Mason voted in the 2016 election. She made no secret of it. She went to the polling station, showed her driver’s license, and cast a provisional ballot. Imagine her shock when she was then arrested and charged with felony voter fraud. Last week, she was sentenced to five years in a state prison. For voting.

Mason went to trial and believed that her defense was a sound one. She had no idea that she wasn’t allowed to vote in Texas. She thought she had paid her debt to society and she was ready to re-enter it. She told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Do you think I would jeopardize my freedom? Do you honestly think I would ever want to leave my babies again? That was the hardest thing in my life to deal with. Who would—as a mother, as a provider—leave their kids over voting?” Mason believes that she is being singled out because she voted for Hillary Clinton. There’s no way to know if that’s true, but Tarrant County authorities recently convicted a second woman of illegal voting, and she was given eight years in prison. The sentences are draconian. This probably isn’t about Hillary Clinton as much as it’s about implementing a far-right law-and-order ideology that targets people of color and suppresses voter turnout in those communities.

But while the press is focused on the harshness of the sentences and the fact that many states don’t allow former felons to vote even after they’ve completed their sentences and probation, I think there’s a more important thing that’s being overlooked. That’s the issue of mens rea, or criminal intent, and that fact that a lack of criminal intent is no longer considered a defense.

Mens rea is Latin for “guilty mind.” It is the “mental element of a person’s intention to commit a crime or knowledge that one’s action or lack of action would cause a crime to be committed.” In other words, in most cases, you have to have had the intent to commit a crime and the knowledge that it was a crime for it to be an actual crime.

The concept of mens rea was borrowed from English common law. But by the 1950s, the U.S. interpretation had become so wildly different from the English interpretation, that the federal government set out to formulate a definitive formulation of mens rea for the U.S. courts. It was set out in the Model Penal Code of 1957. It establishes five levels of mens rea.

Strict liability mens rea is when the person engages in prohibited conduct, where the conduct is a civil infraction. Think jaywalking. Negligent mens rea is when a “reasonable person” would be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct is of a prohibited nature, and where the actor was not aware, but should have been. This was the argument used in court against Crystal Mason. Prosecutors said that, even if she didn’t know that voting was illegal, she should have because everybody knows felons can’t vote. Right? Reckless mens rea is when the actor consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct is of a prohibited nature. (You know check kiting is probably wrong, but you do it anyway.) Knowing mens rea is when the actor is “practically certain” that his conduct will lead to a result that is of a prohibited nature. (A friend asks you to help him buy a whole bunch of allergy pills. You know he’s probably going to make meth, but you do it anyway.) Purposeful mens rea is when the actor has the “conscious object” of engaging in conduct knowing fully that such conduct is illegal. (You just got out of prison, you plan to rob a bank, you buy a mask, and then you rob said bank.)

In my own case, as I was preparing for trial, prosecutors admitted that I did not have criminal intent when I spoke to two reporters about the CIA’s torture program. That didn’t matter, they argued. A crime is a crime is a crime. And in a precedent-setting decision for a national security case, my judge agreed. “Your honor,” one of my attorneys protested. “Are you saying that a person can accidentally commit espionage and still be punished for it?” “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” was the response. Criminal intent was thrown out the window.

I don’t know if Crystal Mason was targeted because she voted for Hillary Clinton. In any event, her vote wasn’t counted because she wasn’t on the voter roll and she cast only a provisional ballot, which was eventually rejected because she wasn’t registered. What I do know, though, is that no state in America goes after former felons trying to vote quite like Texas. On paper, it’s actually easier to vote as a former felon in Texas than it is in Florida, where no former felon may ever vote again, or Virginia, where the former felon must petition the governor to have his “civil rights reinstated.” In Texas, the former felon must have completed his sentence, including any parole or probation. He can then register.

But Texas stands alone in its single-minded pursuit of anybody who may have voted illegally. Most telling is a recent statement by Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, that voter fraud was “rampant” in the state. How many cases of voter fraud has Texas seen? There were three in the last election. Three. The governor was nonplussed. “We will continue our effort to crack down and make sure there is no illegal voting in Texas,” Abbott said.

Crystal Mason is his latest victim. And her only hope is a pardon—from Greg Abbott.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act - a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+18 # Citizen Mike 2018-04-02 13:17
A triumph for the conservatives, at long last they got one, and as an extra bonus, she's a nonwhite, too! throw the book at her!
+16 # chemtex2611 2018-04-02 14:26
Fort Worth in Tarrant County is the only large city in Texas that is not majority Democratic. How can a crime have been committed if the provisional vote was not counted. The heart of the prosecutor of this case has a large black mark, just like the one on the Grinch, whose heart was two sizes too small.

Ft. Worth and Tarrant County have a wide streak of bigotry right next to their bull-headedness . Hopefully, her lawyer will be able to appeal to a federal court.
+9 # chemtex2611 2018-04-02 14:28
The best revenge is to move out of or never live in Fort Worth. Leave them to their hard-hearted, selfish ways.
+10 # Skeeziks 2018-04-02 14:29
Let's give Texas to China so we can get out of the trillions of dollars of debt owed to China.
+12 # silverbullet 2018-04-02 14:46
I've lived in Houston since 1977. This story simply makes me sick to live in this state. someday Texas will go blue but so far the right has shown no shame in lying, cheating, and bullying to get its way. But someday that arc of justice will smack them in their 'whatevers'.
+15 # economagic 2018-04-02 15:04
1. It's AVWB (Voting While Black, Aggravated because she is female).

2. It's negligence on the part of the Texas Board of Elections for failing to know or notice that Ms. Mason was not eligible to vote and assuring that she would be so identified in the voter rolls provided to the poll workers.

3. It's what despots, aka tyrants, do, and articles pointing out the obvious are increasingly numerous, including one today on RSN. It doesn't matter whether you call it "fascism" or "totalitarianis m" or merely election fraud.

"[W]when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
+10 # eriks 41 2018-04-02 15:13
Good luck with that pardon. Texas is full of assholes who don't like people of color. Eventually there will be more of them than all these old racist white fuckers who will die and need to die.
+15 # Rational Voice 2018-04-02 17:05
Everyone who lives in the state of Texas should write the Governor. I personally have resolved to avoid entering the state Texas or buy products obviously produced there (admittedly difficult in many cases). It's called a "sanction". The U.S. does it all the time to foreign governments so why not use it as a tool against our own culturally backward states.
-22 # skylinefirepest 2018-04-02 17:28
If she was targeted for voting for slick hilly then you liberals have more than made up for it by your rioting, burning, and beating because we voted in trump...and the stupidity from the left still continues. But it is extremely doubtful that Texas would do that!
0 # coexist 2018-04-05 15:19
How about this? As a "leftie," WE all need to realize we are getting screwed by just about every politician on Capital Hill in this rigged, corrupt government. If WE could all realize this, we would stop wasting our time name-calling and criticizing "the other side" and know that WE are all being victimized by corporate power that's running and ruining this country, hopefully before it's way too late...
+12 # beinformed 2018-04-02 17:49
How does this compare to Russia?
+15 # gngr8s 2018-04-02 17:53
If they haven't already done so, I'm guessing Mason's attorney should find out what TX' voting registration form contains. Does it contain a question as to whether the applicant has been a felon, and if so whether the applicant has completed all his/her parole &/or probation. That would be an easy way to alert former felons that they have to complete a multi-stage process before registering or voting. If it doesn't contain such a question, it's questionable whether the state is really trying to prevent voter "fraud." The onus should be on the Registrar.
+14 # elizabethblock 2018-04-02 18:16
How do they know (unless she said it herself) whom she voted for?
But what color her skin is, that's not a secret. And does anyone believe it didn't matter?
BTW, in Canada ex-prisoners can vote. Current prisoners can vote! And in some places there are special measures to help homeless people vote. I don't think many do, but they can.
+16 # allanmillard 2018-04-02 23:25
Living in Canada I am regularly horrified by the backwardness of "The-we-are-num ber-One" nation south of us. The Crystal Mason case is simply incomprehensibl e. In Canada the Supreme Court ruled 26 years ago that depriving prisoners in jails and penitentiaries of more than their liberty was an unacceptable infringement of their civil rights. Since then they have had the right to vote in provincial and federal elections. All prisoners qualified to vote , i.e. citizens over 18, may vote in a special advance poll where they are incarcerated. Their votes are allocated to candidates in the last electoral district where they resided before incarceration.

Methinks there is in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere a somewhat broader civil liberties issue than the intent of State authorities.
+3 # itchyvet 2018-04-03 00:11
Seriously ? In Australia the legal system has a saying, "IGNORANCE IS NO EXCUSE". According to the powers that be, every Australian adult SHOULD know the law on an equal basis as a University educated lawyer. I should know, that's precisely what I was told by the Highest Court in my state by the THREE judges sitting behind the bench. Dare I say it, I suspect the same view would be upheld with the U.S. Judiciary ????
+4 # economagic 2018-04-03 20:53
Yes, we are told that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." It is, however, a damn good reason when the law is complicated enough that it takes at least a couple of years of full-time study to master even its rudiments--whic h is unavoidable in a complex modern society--and when each citizen is expected not only to spend two years of her/his life learning it but to pay for the instruction her/himself.
+2 # skylinefirepest 2018-04-04 16:03
Excellent point, Econo.
+2 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-04-03 10:13
Honest article, one minor error: mens rea literally means: the Mind, hence Intent, of the Defendant, not ‘guilty’ mind; though the effect is the same.
+1 # Robbee 2018-04-03 13:03
Quoting Kootenay Coyote:
Honest article, one minor error: mens rea literally means: the Mind, hence Intent, of the Defendant, not ‘guilty’ mind; though the effect is the same.

- stip to that!

i bet if you looked at the caselaw you would discover judges writing opinions who did not know their latin and then just did the shorthand to ‘guilty’ mind, the pertinent intent in criminal ccases - we can see how john could get this wrong? just by looking at the caselaw?
0 # Robbee 2018-04-03 15:12
What Was the Intent of the State of Texas?

short arm of the law! - texas has invested big bucks in finding over-voting - expect dickhead to boost his numbers of illegal voters from 3 millions to 4 millions!
+8 # angelfish 2018-04-03 16:12
Most, if not ALL, WHITE Transgressors who voted illegally got Fines and Probation. THIS is unconscionable in the 21st Century and just plain WRONG on so many levels it's difficult to address! Texas should be ASHAMED. God WiLL repay them in His good time. "As ye sow, So also shall ye Reap".

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