“New evidence undermines case against Black US woman jailed for voting error”

Sam Levine in The Guardian:

I have an update in my reporting on the case of Pamela Moses, the 44-year-old Black Lives Matter Activist in Memphis who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote. The case has attracted significant national attention because many see Moses’ sentence as too severe and a clear example of disparities in the US criminal justice system.

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 now know she was ineligible and her lawyers have said she went to the probation office genuinely seeking clarity about whether she could vote. A new email I obtained through a public records request adds to evidence undercutting the claim that Moses tricked the officer.

In September 2019, just two days after a probation officer mistakenly signed a certificate telling Moses her probation was complete, officials at the Tennessee department of corrections investigated how exactly their employee made the error. Their investigation didn’t find that Moses had deceived a probation officer, but rather that the officer had made a good-faith mistake.

The review found that the probation officer – referred to as Manager Billington – spent about an hour investigating whether Moses was still on probation. Billington came across a note in Moses’ file noting that in 2016, she had been placed on supervised probation for two years. Even though the system said that Moses remained on unsupervised probation, Billington thought this was a mistake. The person who handled the file, he believed, forgot to close out the case when the supervised probation ran out. That’s why he ultimately signed Moses’ voting certificate saying her probation had expired in 2018 and she was eligible to vote….

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