Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sovereign Citizenship as a Legal Defense?

"Sovereign Citizenship" is the latest rage among the tin foil hat-wearing crowd. Put plainly, "SC" is the (totally false) belief that an individual may simply declare himself "sovereign" and, therefore, not subject to the laws of the land in which he lives.

Adherents to this nonsensical belief typically subscribe to a complicated set of right-wing conspiracy theories, sprinkled with plenty of pseudo-legal jargon and a healthy dose of crazy.

Online scammers have made themselves rich by peddling "Sovereign Citizen Handbooks" and manuals that purport to teach readers "how to unsubscribe from the system and protect yourself and your estate from public exploitation". According to one such scammer, "Standard law books are written in a code that typically confounds the common man. So, rather than waste your precious time digging up case law and code to protect yourself from predatory government agents or dishonest lawyers, we've done it for you."

More and more frequently, courts are encountering "self-represented litigants" who insist on making totally specious arguments bathed in SC theory. Until recently, these cases usually involved debt collection or foreclosure actions. The "sovereign citizen", acting as his own attorney, would claim in open court -- and with a straight face -- that he was immune from the court's authority because he is a nation unto himself. He is, therefore, "sovereign" in the same way that Mexico and Canada are "sovereign". Usually citing some imaginary secret language hidden within the Uniform Commercial Code, the sovereign citizen would argue that his creditors or the government actually owed him money.

While the legal theories surrounding the SC movement should strike most rational adults as laughable, the basic idea simply refuses to die. In fact, SC-based legal defenses seem to be gaining popularity within the criminal courts. In the past few weeks alone, I have personally observed several self-represented defendants attempt, however unsuccessfully, to defend themselves by relying upon some extremely silly sovereign citizen arguments.

Here are some of my favorites. Remember, these are not based upon any actual laws. If you attempt to defend yourself by citing to these arguments, you will lose. Don't blame me, but here they are:

-If the prosecutor, judge and police officers refuse to provide a defendant with copies of their Oaths of Office, they lack the authority to prosecute (or preside, or testify, or whatever the sovereign citizen imagines) and the case must be dismissed.

-If the flag flown in a courtroom has gold fringe around its edges, then it is not a "legal" American flag.  An American flag which incorporates a 4th color (yellow) actually represents no nation or constitution. Since the flag in the courtroom is legally improper, the entire court loses any authority over the defendant and the case must be dismissed.

-If an individual denounces his American citizenship, he may form his own country, along with all of the rights and privileges that statehood encompasses. This includes the right to design one's own license plate and to issue a driver's license to one's self. An individual carrying a self-issued driver's license may drive on public streets without insurance or registration.

If each of the above arguments strikes you as outrageously silly, then congratulations; your bullshit meter is properly calibrated. These arguments obviously appeal to a special breed of ignorant, desperate, paranoid, Glenn Beck-watching fruitcake. Of course, these very people are disproportionately over-represented within the crowded halls of the Superior Court.

For more information about the sovereign citizen movement, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center's website.

If you or a loved one is considering relying on some novel, crackpot legal defense, call us for a free attorney consultation first. (714) 449 3335. Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.