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Pamela Moses

Other Tennessee Exonerations
In the summer of 2019, Pamela Moses, of Memphis, Tennessee, contemplated a campaign to be the city’s next mayor. Moses was 41 years old and a long-time activist with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Moses had pled guilty in 2015 to charges of perjury and tampering with evidence in a case involving allegations that she stalked and harassed a judge. The tampering conviction carried a lifetime ban on voting, which Moses later said she was not told about.

When Moses launched her campaign, election officials in Shelby County told her she was still on probation from the convictions and could neither vote nor be on the ballot. They also realized she had not been removed from the voter rolls.

A judge later confirmed to Moses that she was still on probation but said nothing about the lifetime ban.

But Moses would later say she thought the judge was mistaken and that her probation had ended. She went to a probation office on September 3, 2019, and asked an employee to investigate. The employee reviewed her file and concluded that Moses had completed her probation. He then signed a certificate confirming her eligibility to vote. Moses then submitted a registration form with the Shelby County Election Commission.

On September 5, 2019, officials with the probation office realized they had made a mistake in approving the voter restoration form. Moses was still on probation and ineligible. The review made no mention of her permanent ineligibility based on the tampering conviction.

She was indicted by a grand jury on November 7, 2019, and charged with 14 counts of voter fraud. Twelve of the counts, which were dismissed, alleged that Moses committed voter fraud between 2015 and 2018, during the period when election officials failed to remove her from the voter rolls.

Moses went to trial in Shelby County Criminal Court in November 2021. The employee at the probation office who signed Moses’s voter restoration form testified about the mistakes he made in verifying her information. But prosecutors also presented evidence suggesting that Moses knew she was still under probation and failed to tell the probation officer about her status. With this information, the state said, the probation office employee would have come to the right conclusion on Moses’s ineligibility to vote.

Moses did not testify. The jury convicted Moses of a single count of voter fraud on November 4, 2021. At a sentencing hearing on January 26, 2022, Moses asked Judge Mark Ward for leniency and said she had been accountable for her actions. “I did not falsify anything,” she said. “All I did was try to get my rights to go back the way the people at the election commission told me and the way the clerk did.”

Ward disagreed. “You tricked the probation department into giving you a document saying that you were off probation,” he said. Ward also reminded Moses that after her conviction in 2015, Moses had voted six times as a convicted felon. “I did not know that I had lost my rights to vote because nobody gave me notice of it,” Moses said.

On January 31, 2022, Ward sentenced Moses to six years and one day in prison. He also said that he would consider placing her on probation after nine months if she completed prison programs and maintained good behavior.

Moses’s harsh sentence for a non-violent crime received national coverage, with some commentators noting that Moses, a Black woman, received punishment that was far more severe than that given to white men convicted of similar voting-registration crimes.

On February 3, 2022, The Guardian published an article based on a public-records request that appeared to undercut much of the state’s case. The request turned up an email on September 5, 2019, between supervisors in the probation office that outlined the deficiencies in its employee’s review of Moses’s file. Contrary to the state’s contention at trial, there was no indication that Moses had gone to the probation office with the intent to deceive. Instead, the email said, the employee did not perform a thorough review, and he was hampered by the necessary records not being in one place.

Moses filed a motion for new trial on February 22, 2022, which was amended on February 25, 2022, to incorporate a claim that the state had failed to disclose this email to Moses’s trial attorney.

Ward vacated Moses’s conviction that day. He noted that although the employee who mistakenly approved Moses’ voter-restoration form had been cross-examined at the trial, the email contained information that could have helped Moses in her defense. He said the state’s failure to disclose was “inadvertent.”

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said in a statement: “The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) failed to turn over a necessary document in the case of Pamela Moses and therefore her conviction has been overturned by the judge. When reporters or political opportunists use the word ‘state’ they need to be crystal clear that the error was made by the TDOC and not any attorney or officer in the office of the Shelby County District Attorney.”

The Tennessee Department of Correction said the agency’s actions in the Moses case were fully disclosed to the DA’s office, but that there was “a lack of clarity in understanding the scope of what had been requested by the DA’s Office.”

Moses was released from jail that day.

On April 22, 2022, Ward dismissed the charge against Moses on a motion by Weirich, who said that the time Moses served in jail during and after the prosecution of her case was sufficient. She also said that Moses could have avoided any incarceration if she had agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

“The case should not have been prosecuted right from the beginning because there was no trickery,” said Bebe Anyanwu, Moses’s appellate attorney.

In October, Moses filed a lawsuit against Weirich and other officials, seeking compensation for her wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/29/2022
Last Updated: 10/25/2022
Most Serious Crime:Other Nonviolent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2019
Sentence:6 years
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No