Vinson & Elkins Provides Pro Bono Counsel in High-Profile Appeal of Illegal Voting Case
Since 2019, Vinson & Elkins has supported Crystal Mason-Hobbs pro bono, a defendant who is fighting a five-year state jail sentence for alleged illegal voting.
Over the course of more than three years, V&E has represented the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, as amici curiae in support of Ms. Mason’s appeal.
When Mason-Hobbs went to vote in the 2016 presidential election, she was on federal supervised release for her federal felony conviction. When Election Day volunteers were unable to find her on the voter rolls, she filled out and signed a provisional ballot. Terms of the provisional ballot acknowledged that under Texas law, felons must complete their entire sentences before they can vote again. Ms. Mason’s provisional ballot was never counted.
In 2018, a Texas state court found her guilty of illegal voting. Ms. Mason, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and Texas Civil Rights Project, appealed the case.
On July 19, 2019, V&E filed an initial amicus brief in the Fort Worth Court of Appeals supporting Ms. Mason. In March 2020, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision against Ms. Mason. V&E filed a second brief supporting Ms. Mason’s motion for en banc reconsideration in the Court of Appeals. V&E’s brief argued (among other things) that the Court misconstrued the Texas Election Code by criminalizing Ms. Mason’s conduct even though she did not intend to vote illegally. The motion was denied. In December 2020, V&E filed a third brief supporting Ms. Mason’s petition for discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which the Court granted. On August 3, 2021, V&E filed a fourth brief in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which again argued that the Court below erred by concluding that the Texas Election Code criminalized conduct that amounted to an “honest mistake” regarding Ms. Mason’s voting eligibility status.
Ms. Mason’s case has gained national attention in the wake of a larger conversation about whether voting laws in some states are unfairly excluding certain populations from voting. On May 11, 2022, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the lower court erred by failing to require proof that Ms. Mason had actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised relief. The opinion sends the case back to the Fort Worth Court of Appeals to “evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence.” While this opinion does not overturn Ms. Mason’s conviction, the Court of Appeals has to reevaluate the evidence under a standard that is much more favorable to Ms. Mason. V&E will continue to represent the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, as amici curiae in support of Ms. Mason, as her attorneys continue to seek to overturn her conviction.
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