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Tarrant County woman sentenced to five years for voting while on parole

"She had a good faith belief she could vote legally and she did so," said her attorney Warrent St. John.

Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years in prison for something her attorney says was an honest mistake.

"She had a good faith belief she could vote legally and she did so," said her attorney Warrent St. John.

St. John says Mason, 43, was on parole back in 2016 for committing a federal tax crime when she went to vote in the presidential election. It's illegal to vote in Texas if you're convicted of a felony and still serving your sentence, including parole or supervision.

St. John said Mason didn't know she was committing a crime.

"She did not," he said. "That's her defense. She testified this week in court that she was never told by the federal judge she couldn't vote. She was never told by halfway house folks she couldn't vote."

Marc Mauer, who runs a criminal justice reform advocacy group called "The Sentencing Project," said most people generally don't know about the law when it comes to voting after being released.

"It's the rare exception when a corrections system informs people about their right to vote," Mauer said.

There are currently 500,000 people in Texas, Mauer said, who can't vote because of felony convictions. He calls it "felony disenfranchisement." He calls the process confusing and wonders how clearly Mason understood it.

"In a presidential election, about 40 percent of Americans don't even vote, and here we are putting someone in prison for five years for wanting to participate in the process," Mauer said.

"She specifically told the trial judge, 'If I would've known it was illegal to vote, I would've got up and left,'" St. John said.

Despite her testimony, a Tarrant County judge sentenced Mason to five years in prison during a bench trial this week.

District Attorney Sharen Wilson released a statement to WFAA ,saying in part:

"Our society is built on personal responsibility. There were multiple safeguards in place to keep Crystal Mason from breaking the law, but she still made that choice."

WFAA went by Mason's home in Rendon to speak with her about the case but were told she wasn't home. As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, she also couldn't be reached by phone.

"She's very sad," St. John said of Mason, who's a mother. "She changed her life. She's not the person she used to be."

Mason has already appealed her conviction.

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