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Texas woman gets 5 years in prison for voting illegally

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A Texas woman was sentenced to five years behind bars this week for voting illegally in the 2016 election while on supervised release from federal prison.

Crystal Mason, 43, testified in court that she did not know that she was ineligible to vote due to her 2011 fraud conviction before casting a provisional ballot in the presidential election. In Texas, knowingly voting illegally is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

 Crystal Mason was sentenced to a five year prison sentence this week, after she tried to vote while on supervised release from federal prison, in Tarrant County, Texas. Tarrant County Jail

“A second degree felony for voting illegally? That’s outrageous,” J. Warren St. John, her defense attorney, told NBC News on Friday. “The punishment does not fit this crime.”

Texas’ ballot asks voters to certify that they have completed their sentences — including supervision — if they have previously been convicted of a felony. Mason testified in court that she did not read the fine print because an election worker was helping her with the provisional ballot.

“She voted in good faith,” St. John said, noting that she accurately filled out her own information and wasn’t trying to obscure her identity. “She didn’t intentionally vote illegally and that’s the whole issue.”

Mason had pleaded guilty in 2011 to inflating tax returns while working as a tax preparer and was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison, according to her attorney. She had served roughly three years before being released in 2016.

St. John said that Mason was never told in court, prison, or her halfway house that she couldn’t vote until the entirety of her sentence was complete. Her probation officer also testified in court that he had not told her she couldn’t vote.

Mason is appealing the judge’s ruling, and out on bond pending that appeal. Because the crime is also a violation of her supervised release, she could still be arrested by federal authorities and sentenced to additional federal jail time for violating the terms of her release. St. John said federal court had not yet issued a warrant over the violation, however.

Mason is not the first to receive a severe sentence for voting illegally. A Texas resident and Mexican citizen with a green card, Rosa Maria Ortega, was sentenced to eight years in prison for casting an illegal ballot. Ortega had even served as a poll worker, and she, too, reportedly said she did not know she couldn’t vote.

Still, not everyone gets hard time. A North Carolina prosecutor declined to bring charges against a woman who said she cast an illegal vote for Donald Trump in order to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. “She made a mistake out of sheer ignorance without any intent to defraud or commit a crime,” the prosecutor said, according to a local report.

An estimated 6.1 million Americans are disenfranchised by a felony conviction, something many states are rethinking as those numbers continue to rise alongside skyrocketing incarceration rates.

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Keir Starmer's Labour Party plummets as Boris Johnson doubles lead in new poll

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THE TORIES have doubled their lead over Labour in the latest YouGov poll as Boris Johnson’s party continues to enjoy favourable ratings thanks to the huge success of the Covid vaccine rollout.

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Attorney General Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees

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WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday rescinded a Trump-era memo that curtailed the use of consent decrees that federal prosecutors have used in sweeping investigations of police departments.

Garland issued a new memorandum to all U.S. attorneys and other Justice Department leaders spelling out the new policies on civil agreements and consent decrees with state and local governments.

The memo comes as the Justice Department shifts its priorities to focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

In easing restrictions placed on the use of consent decrees, the Justice Department is making it easier for its prosecutors to use the tool to force changes at police departments and other government agencies with widespread abuse and misconduct.

The memo in particular rescinds a previous memo issued by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions shortly before he resigned in November 2018.

Democrats have long argued the ability of the Justice Department’s civil rights division to conduct sweeping probes of police departments had been curtailed under President Donald Trump. The so-called pattern or practice investigations examine whether systemic deficiencies contribute to misconduct or enable it to persist.

“This memorandum makes clear that the Department will use all appropriate legal authorities to safeguard civil rights and protect the environment, consistent with longstanding Departmental practice and informed by the expertise of the Department’s career workforce,” Garland said.

The Justice Department didn’t totally ban pattern or practice investigations under Trump, but former Attorney General William Barr suggested they may have been previously overused.

As attorney general in the Obama administration, Eric Holder frequently criticized violent police confrontations and opened a series of civil rights investigations into local law enforcement practices. The civil rights investigations often ended with court-approved consent decrees that mandated reforms.

The consent decrees included those with the police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown and in Baltimore following the police custody death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

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SNP outlines when Scotland would hold independence referendum after elections

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SNP John Swinney has outlined when his party would hold a Scottish independence referendum if they won a majority in the next election.

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