Pamela Moses sues officials after voter fraud conviction was overturned

A Tennessee woman who was sentenced this year to a six-year prison term for voter fraud has sued state and local authorities for damages, saying she was wrongfully prosecuted and incarcerated.

Related: Judge dismisses fraud case against Texas man who waited seven hours to vote

Pamela Moses, a 44-year-old activist from Memphis, was sentenced to six years in prison in January after prosecutors said she tried to register to vote knowing she was ineligible in because of a previous felony conviction. She was sentenced even though two government officials, including a probation officer who admitted making a mistake, signed an official form confirming her eligibility. The case sparked national outrage.

Moses’ conviction was overturned by a judge in February after the Guardian published documents highlighting the probation service’s error. Prosecutors did not turn over the document, an internal email from the Tennessee Department of Corrections accusing the probation officer of the error, to Moses’ defense before his trial.

Moïse spent 82 days in prison before his conviction was overturned. The charge caused him “mental anguish, emotional distress, stress, anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation and demoralization”, his lawyers wrote in a complaint filed before federal court last week.

In 2015, Moses pleaded guilty to several crimes, causing him to lose his right to vote. But no one told her she wasn’t eligible to vote, and election officials never removed her from the rolls. It wasn’t until 2019, when Moses argued with election officials over his eligibility to run for mayor, that authorities noticed their mistake.

Moses, believing she had completed her probation, tried to register to vote. The local clerk and probation office approved his eligibility, even though Moses was still on probation for his crime. In Tennessee, a conviction for tampering with evidence — which is one of the offenses Moses pleaded guilty to in 2015 — permanently disenfranchises offenders.

Moses accused Amy Weirich, the district attorney who handled the case, of knowingly withholding evidence that could have exonerated him. Weirich said earlier this year that the corrections department did not provide the document to his office. A ministry spokesperson said in February there was a “lack of recognition of the scope” of the documents that had been requested.

Moses’ case is one of several recent cases in which prosecutors brought voter fraud charges against people with felony convictions only to see the cases thrown out months later. In Florida, a Miami man who was among 19 charged with voter fraud in a series of cases announced by Ron DeSantis had his case dismissed on Friday. In Texas, a judge also dismissed charges last week against Hervis Rogers, a Houston man who stood in line for hours to vote and was charged with voter fraud due to a previous criminal conviction. Moses is the first defendant to sue prosecutors after her case was dismissed.

She likely faces an uphill battle in court.

“Lawsuits for non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence face a heavy burden, as the Supreme Court highlighted in the recent Connick v. Thompson case,” said Jeffrey Welty, professor at the School of Government of the University of North Carolina. He said he hadn’t followed Moïse’s case closely enough to comment on its merits, but in general, he said, “the court said that a plaintiff does not cannot simply show a single incident of non-disclosure, but must show a policy of willful indifference”. the rights of the accused.

“It looks like another part of the lawsuit could allege malicious prosecution,” he added. “This requires a plaintiff to show that they were sued without probable cause and maliciously, which requires that the lawsuit be brought in bad faith or for an improper purpose. The malice requirement can be difficult to establish because the normal assumption is that when prosecutors charge people with crimes, they are just doing their job.

Weirich, a Republican, lost her re-election bid last month to Steve Mulroy, a Democrat who has frequently raised Moses’ case on the campaign trail.

The district attorney’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Tennessee has some of the most restrictive laws in the United States when it comes to restoring the right to vote of people guilty of crimes. About 471,592 people in the state, and more than 21% of its voting-age black population, can’t vote because of a crime, according to an estimate from the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit criminal justice organization. .

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