A Texas African-American woman was sentenced last March to five years in a state prison because she voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. Crystal Mason ran afoul of Texas’s voting laws because she was on federal supervised release from a fraud conviction at the time she voted. Convicted felons cannot vote in Texas.


For this minor transgression, Mason was indicted by Tarrant County Republican District Attorney Sharon Wilson.


Mason’s particularly harsh sentence came after she waived her right to a jury trial and had her case tried by Republican state district court Judge Ruben Gonzales.


Five Years in Prison for Voting Illegally


“I find it amazing that the government feels she made this up,” Mason’s defense attorney J.  Warren St. John told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “She was never told that she couldn’t vote, and she voted in good faith. Why would she risk going back to prison for something that is not going to change her life?”


Mason has served time in a federal prison because she and her husband between 2005-2008 ran a tax preparing business during which time they submitted to the IRS inflated tax refunds for some of their clients. The couple was indicted by Northern District of Texas Republican U.S. Attorney Sharon R. Saldana on one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS in the tax scheme. They pled guilty in November 2011.


In March 2012, Mason was sentenced by Republican U.S. District Court Judge John McBryde to the maximum 5-year term of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay$4.2 million in restitution.


Unequal Justice for Black, Brown and Poor


This is the routine kind of justice a black and brown defendant, regardless of the offense, receives in both the charging and sentencing processes in our criminal justice system when those decisions are made by Republican prosecutors and judges.


In their June 2017 legal treatiseJudicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions,” Harvard Law School Professors Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang made these findings:


“The key assumption of our empirical design is that any differences in characteristics of cases assigned to Republican versus Democratic judges are not unbalanced by defendant race or gender. This assumption allows us to infer that any differences in disparities by political affiliation are not the product of differences in observed and unobserved case characteristics across judges. We document that there is no differential case selection to Republican versus Democratic judges by defendant race or gender. As a result, any systematic differences in the sentencing outcomes of black versus white offenders, or female versus male offenders, can be attributed to differences associated with judge political affiliation rather than differences in case and defendant characteristics.


“In sharp contrast to the prior literature relying on court-level variation, we find that Republican judges give substantially longer prison sentences to black offenders versus observably similar white offenders compared to Democratic judges within the same district court. The racial gap by political affiliation is 1.4 months, approximately 50 percent of the average racial sentence gap. We also find that Republican judges give female defendants 1.5 months less in prison than similar male defendants compared to Democratic judges, 30 percent of the average gender sentence gap. These racial and gender gaps by judge political affiliation cannot be explained by other observable judge characteristics such as judge race or judge gender and persist even after controlling for a full set of judge fixed effects …


“Overall, our findings suggest that judicial politics may be a source of the persistent racial and gender disparities in the federal criminal justice system, and that politics may play an even larger role today under the current state of increased sentencing discretion. These results indicate that the appointment of federal judges can have profound distributional effects on the criminal justice system, in particular because the federal criminal justice system is the source of the largest and fastest growing prison population (Congressional Research Service 2013), with federal judges making tens of thousands of sentencing decisions a year. Our estimates suggest that a ten percentage point increase in the share of Republican-appointed judges in each court would increase the racial sentencing gap by approximately 20 percent. Alternatively, during an average four-year term, a Republican president has the potential to alter the partisan composition of the district courts by approximately 13 percent, potentially increasing the racial sentencing gap by 26 percent.”


Judge Goes Easy of Presidential Loyalist


On March 8, 2019, former President Trump’s campaign manager and serial fraudster/tax cheat Paul Manafort stood for sentencing before the Senior Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, T.S. Ellis III, following convictions for tax fraud, bank fraud, and hiding foreign bank accounts. Judge Ellis was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, a two-term self-styled conservative Republican.


Manafort, a well known political shyster in the Republican Party, was facing a U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommended sentence of 19 to 24 years.


But this highly placed Republican criminal defendant was not concerned about the impending sentence Judge Ellis was about to impose.


Paul Manafort had made a lot of political friends, including President Trump, on the national and international political stage representing murderous dictators, human rights violators, and corrupt thugs who seized and maintained power by force.


Just as he called the violent white nationalists in Charlottesville “very fine people,” President Trump considers Manafort a “good guy,” regardless of his lifetime of criminal wrongdoing, including murder-by-proxy through his allegiance over the last four decades to some of the world’s worst dictators.


Manafort did not even find a need to apologize to the court for all of his criminal schemes. And Judge Ellis, who raised a lot of ethical eyebrows during his handling of the Manafort case, did not believe an apology was in order since the treasonous thug, as the judge noted, had “otherwise lived a blameless life” beyond his massive criminal wrongdoing.


47 Months for $30,000,000.00 Tax Fraud


Republican Judge Ellis then sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison, three years of supervised release, a $50,000 fine, and $30 million in restitution (compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars Manafort made stealing and rigging elections for murderous dictators with his “Manafort textbook” art of politics.


At the end of the day, Paul Manafort received a less severe sentence than Crystal Mason.


These two cases exemplify the kind of sentencing disparity that occurs every day in courtrooms across the country because of the political affiliations of Republican judges and the race of the defendants.


The result of these two cases begs the question as to how this nation’s criminal justice system can consider Crystal Mason, who cast one single fraudulent vote in the 2016 presidential election, a more serious offender than Paul Manafort who filed false income tax returns, failed to report foreign accounts and committed bank fraud.


Legislators, prosecutors and judges at both the state and federal level have created the glaring racial disparities seen in all areas of law enforcement, from arrest to sentencing.  However, as citizens responsible for holding our elected officials and public servants accountable, we are all complicit in the racially discriminatory outcomes in our judicial system.