I called Moses’ cases a “legal lynching” a few weeks ago because it bore all the markings of a deliberate attempt to terrorize and send a message of racial subjugation to other Black voters. While whites committing actual voter fraud have gotten probation or misdemeanors, Moses – who merely tried to register to vote – got six years.
Guardian reporter Sam Levine explains the case.
The prosecution’s case is built around the argument that Moses knew she was ineligible to vote because she was on probation, and people on felony probation in Tennessee cannot vote. Indeed, a few months before she tried to register, a judge had issued an order telling Moses her probation was ongoing. But nevertheless, prosecutors argued, she convinced a probation officer into signing a form saying she was eligible to vote and then knowingly submitted the document knowing it was false. “You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation,” W Mark Ward, the judge who sentenced Moses, said in January.
Moses, for her part, told me she did not know she was ineligible and her lawyers have said she went to the probation office genuinely seeking clarity about whether she could vote.
Kudos to Levine for submitting a public records request and getting the evidence neither the prosecutors nor the defense apparently bothered to look for: an email showing that the probation officer made a mistake, not that he had been tricked.
The result? Judge Ward ordered a new trial for Moses and set her free in the meanwhile. More from The Guardian:
W Mark Ward, the judge who oversaw the case and sentenced Moses, cited the prosecution’s failure to disclose the letter, even if it was inadvertent, as one of the reasons he was ordering a new trial. “The document does contain information that was not addressed in the direct and cross-examinations of Billington and contained the identity of an additional possible witness for the defense.”
Ward also said the court had erroneously allowed information about a prior 2000 felony conviction and an earlier effort by Moses to get her voting rights back to be introduced at trial. “The only real issue for the jury during the trial was whether the defendant knew the certificate of voting rights restoration form was not accurate when she obtained it and utilized it to attempt to register to vote,” he wrote. “The fact that she was convicted of a felony in 2000 and had her right to vote restored in 2014 has no significant relevance” to the case at hand.
The ruling was an abrupt reversal for Ward, who yelled at Moses’ lawyer during the sentencing hearing and said she tricked the probation officer.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a perfect example of why a free and independent press is so important to a democracy.