by Kevin Seraaj, Orlando Advocate
Moses was originally convicted in a November 2021 jury trial of illegally registering to vote. In February of this year she was sentenced to six years in prison.
Moses, an activist with Black Lives Matter and founder of the Memphis chapter, was in the process of running for mayor of Memphis when she was targeted for investigation. The run was a long-shot run for Moses. In 2015, she pled guilty to tampering with evidence and forgery, both felony convictions, in addition to perjury, stalking, theft under $500 and escape, all misdemeanor convictions. For those misdemeanor crimes, Mason was placed on probation for seven years.
In 2019, she began the process of restoring her voting rights and asked a probation officer to complete the certificate that starts the process in Tennessee.
The officer certified that Moses had completed probation for the crimes that stripped her of the right to vote. It turned out, though, that the probation officer was wrong.
Her felony convictions, however, made her permanently ineligible to vote in the state of Tennessee, according to the Office of the District Attorney. Moses said she was unaware of the permanent ban.
Prosecutors said Moses intentionally deceived the officer about being permanently banned. Moses, though, relied both on what she thought she understood– and the probation officer’s certification, arguing that it was illogical for her to intentionally commit such a crime while running for office. Both she and the probation officer thought at the time she was able to vote.
So when prosecutors offered Moses a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor to avoid jail time, Moses said ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
She was stunned by her conviction. Her many supporters, on the other hand, were inflamed. The Guardian newspaper found evidence that the probation officer had freely admitted his mistake, and that Moses had not deceived him about her status. He had seen a note that Moses was still under court supervision but assumed that note was a mistake. That evidence– an email authored by Correctional Administrator Joe Williams— discussed the officer’s error and noted that the problem wasn’t trickery, but bad in-house information: “The information that Manager Billington had at the time he signed the Voters Restoration was insufficient to reasonably affirm that an offender was off supervision.”
The Guardian learned that this information had not been turned over to the defense team by prosecutors– itself a violation of law. See how that works? If “they” violate the law– intentionally– it’s okay. But if “you” violate the law– even mistakenly– you could be looking at serious time.
Just City, a non-profit organization dedicated to overhauling unjust criminal justice policies in Shelby County, took up Moses’ cause and was unrelenting in its criticism of the case. With disclosure of the Guardian’s investigation and the heightening publicity due to Just City’s efforts, the government decided to end it’s intimidating prosecution.
Just City Executive Director Josh Spickler reportedly told The Commercial Appeal the case was never about justice.
“Prosecuting Ms. Moses was a thinly-veiled attempt to send a message to Black voters in this community. The decision to dismiss her charges came late on a Friday and only after a national media outcry in an election year,” Spickler said. “The decision whether to wield the immense power of the State of Tennessee against one of its citizens should be made in the interest of justice alone, not electoral politics and public relations.”
This case is a clear example of why investigative journalism cannot be allowed to die. Innocent lives are always on the line.