A Tennessee state attorney on Friday dropped all charges against Pamela Moses, a Memphis woman with a previous felony conviction who was sentenced in January to six years and one day in prison after trying to regain her right to vote in 2019.
Her trial’s voter fraud conviction was dismissed in February after a judge ruled that the Tennessee Department of Correction falsely withheld evidence later discovered by The Guardian. Ms Moses was due to appear in court on Monday to find out whether prosecutors would continue a new trial.
But Ms. Moses will no longer face a second trial “in the interests of the judicial economy,” Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said in a statement. Ms. Moses has been in custody for 82 days in this case, “which is enough,” said Ms. Weirich. Ms. Moses is also permanently barred from registering to vote or vote in Tennessee. Ms. Weirich declined to comment further on the matter.
The conviction of Ms Moses, who is black, had sparked outrage among voters who said the case exposed racial inequalities in criminal prosecutions for vote fraud cases and opaque voting restoration laws that are causing confusion and many people with convictions for commit serious crimes. not sure of their rights.
In the summer of 2019, Ms. Moses, a Black Lives Matter activist, decided she wanted to run for mayor of Memphis, or at least vote in the upcoming election.
She knew she couldn’t do either while on probation for previous felony convictions, including a 2015 conviction for tampering with evidence. But she believed her probation was over, according to her lawyer, Bede Anyanwu. In total, Mrs. Moses has 16 previous criminal convictions, including 2015 offenses of perjury, stalking and theft of less than $500, according to the district attorney’s office.
In September 2019, a judge told Ms Moses that she was still on probation. But when she went to the probation office to confirm, a probation officer told her she was actually done with her probation, the records show. The probation officer signed her recovery certificate to vote and Ms Moses then presented it to the election officials.
A day later, the Department of Correction sent a letter to the Shelby County Elections Commission, saying that the parole officer had made a mistake and that Ms. Moses couldn’t vote because she was actually still on probation.
A video from a January hearing shows Ms Moses telling Judge W. Mark Ward of the Shelby County Criminal Court, “All I did was try to get my vote back as the people on the Election Commission told me. “
Judge Ward replied, “You misled the probation service into giving you a document stating that you were no longer on probation.”
Ms. Moses was charged with perjury on a registration form and consenting to a false entry on official election documents. The first charge was dropped, but she was convicted of the second charge in November and convicted in January. Ultimately, the 2015 conviction of Ms. Moses for tampering made her permanently ineligible to vote under Tennessee law, regardless of her probation status.
“The case should not have been prosecuted from the start, because there was no cheating,” said Mr. Anyanwu. Ms Moses declined to comment on Saturday.
In recent years, Republican officials have taken to tackling voter fraud, despite the crime remaining a very rare and often accidental occurrence.
Florida election officials have made only 75 referrals to law enforcement regarding possible fraud during the 2020 election, of the more than 11 million votes cast, according to data from the Florida Secretary of State’s Office. Of those investigations, only four have been prosecuted as voter fraud.
Still, lawmakers in some states have tightened penalties for vote-related crimes, and prosecutors and prosecutors have pursued aggressive prosecutions of crimes in cases that could be viewed as legitimate errors.
Voting rights advocates interpret these actions as a voter suppression tactic.
“These prosecutions are designed to scare people with previous convictions into even trying to register to vote,” said Blair Bowie, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, DC, who has appointed Ms. Moses and Mr. Anyanwu. assisted with the case since October.
These prosecutions also falsely accuse individuals of not going through an unclear voter recovery process, she said, adding that state officials are responsible for putting in place adequate procedures for that process.
Ms. Bowie represents the Tennessee NAACP in a lawsuit against Governor Bill Lee and other officials who accuse them of failing to establish clearer procedures for individuals with felony convictions, “leading to a rights restoration process that is unequal, inaccessible, opaque and is inaccurate.”
Nearly 80 percent of disenfranchised people in the state have completed their probation and parole and may be eligible to regain their right to vote, but less than 5 percent of potentially eligible Tennesseeers have successfully completed a Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights. and has attempted to register to vote, according to the lawsuit.
Voting rights advocates say the case also highlights racial disparities in the prosecution of voter fraud cases.
“What we consistently see is that honest mistakes made by returning citizens are punished to the maximum, and real bad intentions are not punished to the same extent,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “And usually the defendants in those cases are white.”
In October, Donald Kirk Hartle, a white Republican voter, was charged with two counts of voter fraud in Las Vegas after he forged his late wife’s signature to vote with her ballot. He was sentenced to one year of probation in November, The Associated Press reported.
Edward Snodgrass, a white Republican official in Ohio, forged his late father’s signature on a 2020 ballot and was charged with illegal voting, NBC News reported. As part of a plea deal, he spent three days in jail last year, The Delaware Gazette reported.
According to Ms Bowie, Ms Moses is still seeking to restore her civil rights, including voting rights, through a lawsuit in the Shelby County Circuit Court. That lawsuit poses a constitutional challenge to the state statute that permanently prohibits people convicted of tampering with evidence from voting in Tennessee.