Prosecutor Drops All Charges Against Pamela Moses

And yet the state still extracted their pound of flesh

Pamela Moses [Center] attending a May Day Gathering, May 1st 2019. Credit: Joe Rondone/The Commerical Appeal

For the last few months, I’ve been documenting the case of Pamela Moses. For those unfamiliar, Moses was convicted of illegally registering to vote. Moses was ineligible due to being on probation for a previous conviction. Moses contested the charge, saying that she had checked with the probations department and they had told her she could register. Ultimately, Moses was sentenced to six years in prison and was taken into custody. At the time, I and others used this as an illustration of one aspect of the “trial tax”–the cost that people pay when they decide not to take a plea deal and exercise their constitutional right to a trial.

Last month, after additional, potentially exculpatory evidence surfaced that was not shared with the defense, the judge in the case declared a mistrial. When a mistrial is declared the county prosecutor has a fixed amount of time in which to decide if they want to retry a defendant or drop the charges. This decision is an example of “prosecutorial discretion.” Late last week, Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich announced she was dropping all charges:

Prosecutors will no longer pursue illegal voter registration charges against a Tennessee woman who was granted a new trial after she challenged her jury conviction, a district attorney said Friday.

Charges against Black Lives Matter activist Pamela Moses, 44, were being dismissed and she will no longer face a second trial “in the interest of judicial economy,” Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich said in a statement. …

In all, Moses has spent 82 days in custody on the case, “which is sufficient,” Weirich said in her statement.

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/23/1094480415/illegal-voter-registration-case-dropped

The good news is that in the end, charges were dropped. However, that doesn’t mean that Moses still didn’t pay the trial tax along the way. DA Weirich’s comments on the case should cause some distress to readers. Ultimately Moses spent 82 days caged over this incident. Weirich’s comment that time was “sufficient” I think can only be read as an acknowledgment that the state was able to extract its pound of flesh (or rather punishment).

Additionally, it leads us to the question of, if 82 days of incarceration were “sufficient” in the eyes of the State, why was the initial sentence for this Six Years?!

And ultimately, Weirich’s focus on the “interest of judicial economy” reminds us why the trial tax is in place to begin with–to ensure that our justice system continues to work. Once it became clear that convicting Moses again would be more trouble than it was worth (literally it stopped making economic sense from a system perspective) the prosecution was dropped. Afterall the trial tax had still been paid.

Even when it seemingly loses, the house almost always wins.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Democracy, Law and the Courts, Voting
Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    Proving once again that the American system of justice will do the right thing – eventually – if there’s enough publicity.

    3
  2. CSK says:

    I’m glad she’s out, but the six year sentence might have been a response to the sixteen prior felony convictions she had.

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  3. Matt Bernius says:

    @CSK:

    the six year sentence might have been a response to the sixteen prior felony convictions she had.

    Without a doubt, previous convictions come into play in sentencing. See this table for an example of Tennesse’s sentencing guidelines.

    https://collins.legal/blog/tennessee-sentencing-guidelines/

    That said, this case also demonstrates the arbitrary nature of this–especially when we are looking at a non-violent and victimless crime. This should lead us to ask why illegally registering to vote is a Class D Felony in Tennesse? Note that isn’t even the lowest level of Felony conviction (there’s a Class E). In this case, it’s a textbook example of overcriminalization.

    Finally, as I noted in the first article if her previous criminal record was so sufficient as to require that harsh of a sentence, it should lead us to ask why she was initially offered a plea deal with no additional incarceration.

    All of that just points out how arbitrary our current system is (and how much it focused on keeping the system running with minimimum friction versus any real attempts at justice).

    6
  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Once it became clear that convicting Moses again would be more trouble than it was worth (literally it stopped making economic sense from a system perspective) the prosecution was dropped.

    One has nothing to do with the other. She dropped it because she figured that with all the available evidence she didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning a 2nd time around. When weighing up whether to take a case to trial or not, the cost of incarceration* never enters into a prosecutors deliberations. Just whether the uppity** defendant needs to be taught a lesson and what the chances of success are.

    Everything else DA Weirich had to say was mere face saving.

    *was just reminded recently that the US, with 5% of the world’s population has 20% of the world’s incarcerated people. Imagine not just the direct cost of incarceration to our economy, but also the lost productivity of all those people. Yeah, we don’t care, those people have to pay.

    **what is more uppity than demanding a trial before one’s peers? How dare they!

    4
  5. just nutha says:

    Additionally, it leads us to the question of, if 82 days of incarceration were “sufficient” in the eyes of the State, why was the initial sentence for this Six Years?!

    Meh… We all (especially you, I suspect) understand that saying the incarceration was “sufficient” is prosecutor-ese embracing the need to say anything other than “we were wrong.” As to the why six years part, I’m with Ozark; the original sentencing recommendation (and statute, probably) is about making sure that all the KKKLLAANNNNGGs out there know their place. (But again, I suspect you already know that, too.)

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This woman of color spent 82 days in jail for doing what her parole officer told her she could.
    Mark Meadows was illegally registered to vote in 3 different states; NC, SC, and VA. He has done no jail time.
    Glenn Youngkin’s young kin tried to vote illegally for his father…twice…in the same VA election. He has done no jail time.
    Not sure if you have noticed but this is still a very racist nation.

    8
  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: And classist. McCarthy and Youngkin are Wilhoit’s protected by the law, but not bound.

    3
  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    This was beyond a mistrial. It was a blatant Brady violation. Someone or someones should have sanctions coming down the pike.

    1
  9. Matt Bernius says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    I was wondering if this was a Brady violation or not. My live-in expert wasn’t sure based on my recounting of the facts that have been reported. That said, she has repeatedly said she would never put me on the stand. And clearly IANAL.