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Surviving Your Next Sovereign Citizen

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This scenario will sound familiar to many criminal attorneys:  you’re in court, the DA calls the next case, and the judge asks John Q. Defendant how he pleads?

“Your Honor, I am not ‘JOHN Q. DEFENDANT,’ which is a fictional corporate entity. I am a natural living being, appearing pro per on behalf of John Q. Defendant, free citizen, for the limited purpose of challenging jurisdiction….” What follows next is a confusing series of questions to the judge about standing and injured parties, and quasi-legal arguments full of buzz words about the U.C.C., admiralty court, strawmen, right to travel, capital letters, red ink, fiduciaries, de facto government, accepted for value, etc. On and on and on it goes, for however long the court is willing to listen.

Yep, you’ve got a “sovereign citizen” on your hands.

Readers may have different opinions on the best way to handle these defendants in court (which I hope you will share in the comments), but I recommend taking the simplest approach of all: don’t play the game.

Who are sovereign citizens?

Retired SOG faculty member Michael Crowell wrote this helpful “Quick Quide” which summarizes the movement, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also has an informative write-up about them. In short, “sovereign citizen” is used as a catch-all term to describe a wide range of groups and organizations (Freemen on the Land, Washitaw Nation, Moorish Sovereign Movement, tax protesters, white supremacists, and others) who, for various reasons, claim they are exempt from the law and not subject to the court’s jurisdiction. Their beliefs are usually based on convoluted readings of commercial law and the 14th Amendment, conspiracy theories involving the U.S. Treasury, some wishful thinking, and misinformation from other defendants who promise them that “it really works.”

These defendants have been making their arguments (without success) for many years now, but the movement is still going. Just ask Jared Fogle, the former Subway pitchman, who tried to overturn his federal sex crime convictions with a pro se sovereign citizen filing a few months ago. It was denied.

Are there any valid legal arguments behind their theories?

No. There are relatively few North Carolina appellate cases dealing with sovereign citizens, in part because these defendants often represent themselves and have difficulty perfecting an appeal. But the limited number of cases to reach the North Carolina Court of Appeals have, not surprisingly, failed. E.g., State v. Phillips I, 149 N.C. App. 310 (2002) (discussion and rejection of several common sovereign citizen arguments); State v. Rogers, 808 S.E.2d 156, 158, fn.1 (N.C. App. 2017) (“[C]ourts repeatedly have been confronted with sovereign citizens’ attempts to delay judicial proceedings, and summarily have rejected their legal theories as frivolous”), quoting State v. Faulkner, 792 S.E.2d 836, 842 (N.C. App. 2016).

The Fourth Circuit has likewise rejected these arguments in federal court. E.g., U.S. v. Underwood, __ Fed. Appx. __, 2018 WL 1252115 (4th Cir. 2018) (unpublished) (defendant’s sovereign citizen arguments “ha[d] no conceivable validity in American law” and “did not support the conclusion that the district court lacked jurisdiction over his prosecution”).

Then why are these cases so frustrating and time-consuming?

It’s not because of what the defendant is saying – it’s because of what he’s not saying.

The criminal justice system usually operates with some degree of cooperation and participation by the defendant. Come stand over here. Fill out this financial affidavit. Sign this waiver form. Do you understand the charges? What do you want to do about a lawyer? How do you intend to plead?

Instead of answering those questions, sovereign citizens interrupt the judge, demand to see a “certificate” of jurisdiction, and read lengthy statements into the record. If the judge and attorneys are not prepared for this kind of non-response, there may be some confusion about how to move on to the next step in the process. Sovereign citizens see this as evidence that their strategy is “working,” and take it as encouragement to keep trying.

So how should prosecutors (and the court) handle these defendants?

First, as general guidance, review Michael Crowell’s helpful tips for court personnel on dealing with sovereign citizens. These suggestions are from a few years ago, but still good advice. The key is to simply refuse to play along.

At the risk of overstating the obvious — yes, the court is required to have jurisdiction. And yes, if there is a genuine factual dispute as to that issue, the state may even be required to prove it to the jury. But there is no requirement that the judge (or anyone else) engage in lengthy discussions with the defendant to try to convince him that jurisdiction exists. Whether it’s a nonsensical argument made in open court or a frivolous written motion filed with the clerk, the judge can promptly rule that he or she has considered the argument and determined that as a matter of law, and pursuant to the cases cited above, the defendant has failed to state a valid basis for relief under G.S. 15A-954(a)(8) or any other grounds, so the motion is denied.

Then move on. And keep moving.

When the defendant refuses to accept or reject the plea offer, and only wants to argue with the prosecutor at the bar? Set it for trial, announce the date, and move to the next case on the docket. See G.S. 7A-49.4.

When the defendant refuses to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty? Record that fact, and then proceed to try the defendant “as if he had pleaded not guilty.” See G.S. 15A-941(a).

When the defendant interrupts the trial and refuses to follow the judge’s instructions? The court has its contempt powers under Chapter 5A, and the inherent authority to take “whatever legitimate steps are necessary to maintain proper decorum and appropriate atmosphere in the courtroom during a trial.” See State v. Dickerson, 9 N.C. App. 387 (1970).

In other words, just remember that a sovereign citizen’s cooperation is not actually required to successfully resolve the case.

What about counsel?

Many sovereign citizens will want to represent themselves, although they may deny that they are “proceeding pro se” and insist that they are only “appearing pro per.” That’s fine. “Pro per” is an abbreviation of “in propria persona,” meaning “in one’s own person,” and it serves the same purpose here as “pro se.”

But before allowing a defendant to represent himself, G.S. 15A-1242 requires that the judge make a “thorough inquiry” and be satisfied that the defendant understands his right to counsel, the nature of the charges and proceedings, and the consequences of deciding to represent himself. It can be difficult and time-consuming to get through that discussion with a sovereign citizen, but if the court is able to do it, then the defendant’s unusual legal beliefs do not necessarily preclude him from pro se representation. See State v. Faulkner, 792 S.E.2d 836 (N.C. App. 2016) (sovereign citizen’s waiver of counsel for a probation violation hearing was valid, despite twice stating that he did not understand some part of what the judge said – appellate court considered the colloquy as a whole, deferred to trial court’s assessment of defendant’s credibility, and noted that “a defendant’s contention that he ‘does not understand’ the proceedings is a common aspect of a ‘sovereign citizen’ defense”).

Or the defendant may ask for standby counsel under G.S. 15A-1243. That’s also allowed, but defense attorneys should be wary of getting sucked into the “hybrid representation” trap, which is not allowed. A defendant can appear pro se, or he can have counsel represent him, but he can’t have it both ways. See State v. Glenn, 221 N.C. App. 143 (2012); State v. Thomas, 331 N.C. 671 (1992).

“Paper Terrorism” and Other Risks

Finally, prosecutors should be prepared to respond to any attempts at intimidation or retaliation by sovereign citizen defendants. This usually takes the form of fraudulent legal filings, which may include filing false liens against the property of anyone involved in the case. This tactic is addressed by G.S. 14-118.6, which not only empowers the registers of deeds and clerks of court to refuse to accept a lien or encumbrance if they have a reasonable suspicion it is false (subject to a hearing), but also makes it a Class I felony to file such a false lien or encumbrance.

In the most extreme cases, if the defendant engages in repetitive frivolous filings, bogus lawsuits, and so on, the court may consider entering a “gatekeeper order,” which is essentially a pre-filing injunction that bars the person from filing any new suits or papers without the court’s prior approval.

For most judges and attorneys, a sovereign citizen encounter will involve some frustration and delay, but it does not usually pose a serious risk to their personal safety. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for police officers, detention staff, and others who are called upon to maintain order in the courtroom or confront sovereign citizens out on the road. So please, be cautious in those situations, and make sure you have backup available nearby.

24 comments on “Surviving Your Next Sovereign Citizen

  1. At one time I was very angered whenever I had to deal with these individuals in district court proceedings, but once I realized that you simply can’t talk sense into them, I learned to enjoy it. I would other attorneys know that it was happening, and they would come watch. They were often times very entertaining. The judges were 50/50 “lets just enjoy this for a bit and hear what kind of nonsense he has to say” and “if you interrupt me one more time you are going to be held in contempt and you will be in the sheriff’s custody.”

    One time, the judge held the man in contempt and the next morning, while still in custody, he was much more pleasant – “Yes, your honor, sorry, your honor, yes I would like to sign that waiver now, your honor.” It seems the jail cell instills more respect for the judge and court.

    • Please I need your Help. Im a 75 years old women with a disabled son. I have more than 18 months trying to
      evict from my property a sovereign citizen. He was legally evicted but he continue moving back. I already spent a lot of money with lawyers and paying my rent and my mortgage is creating a lot a burn on me. Of course he is filling fraudulent papers than look official and make the police believe. Of course sovereing citizen are called “Terrorist Papers”

      • An eviction means that they are trespassing if they return unless you let them back in. If you show the police the eviction papers from the court you will be the winner not the sovereign. If law enforcement does not believe the papers are real go to the judge who enforced the eviction and he or she will force the police to put the sovereign out for good. Remember the only thing a sovereign wants is a free ride at your expense and misery. Don’t play into their nonsense. Good luck.

  2. I don’t get why some judges, who will toss somebody from their court for sagging pants or find contempt for a slammed door, will put up with this Sovereign nonsense. Blow the whistle for unsportsmanlike conduct, 15 yard penalty, Sheriff he’s in your custody. Have a nice day. Come back when you can play by the rules.

    • I told the first one I had while on the bench I would call ICE and have them transport him back to his homeland. That did it for those in Wayne County even being filed. The Clerks appreciated that!

    • These law abiding Americans do play by the rules but aren’t adequately educated in civil procedure. The court system railroads over them and calls this activity “due process”. There is no trust in the justice system anymore because of this type of treatment of a pro persona or a pro se. The American bar association is a private membership association that profits on the people and their lack of standing due to ignorance and fear.

      The next step is not good.. it’s either civil war, government shutdown or martial law.

      • Every sovereign I have met has a criminal record of some type or are trying avoid paying for services that everyone else do pay. For instance car insurance, vehicle registration, or a drivers license. Car insurance is to protect you, your family, and anyone that may be injured in a vehicle collision. The registration is two fold; first to ensure that your vehicle can be identified and distinguished from another. Second is for your state to know the number of vehicles owned by citizens of that state. A drivers license is to show that everyone is properly trained and tested in the operation of the vehicle they are driving and that the driver understands the rules of the road, much like piloting a boat or ship. I do believe that the federal government should not interfere with states or county business. But to say that sovereign citizens are law abiding is not understanding what they do to people who truly follow the rules.

  3. I’d like to hear from a sovereign citizen a concise explanation of his/her legal theories. Surely it isn’t entirely hogwash.

    • So I’m not a sovereign citizen but I’ve read up on it. The most basic concept is that they believe that the current US government is illegitimate, and there are two classes of citizens – sovereigns and those who either by birth (usually black people, because they believe that the 14th amendment made them citizens in exchange for giving up their rights to the government) or because they voluntarily gave up their rights by contracting with the government. In the sovereign view, applying for a drivers license, social security number, paying taxes, etc are all “agreeing” to become subject to governmental jurisdiction. They also believe that each person who is born has both a corporate entity, with their name written in all caps like on a driver’s license, and a separate flesh-and-blood person with the same name but not in all caps. Another common belief is that the US government creates a funded secret account at birth for each new “corporate” person and if you know how you can get access to the money or use it to fund your debts. They believe that the government has pledged you and your future earnings to foreign countries as collateral for America’s debts.

      Yes, this seems nuts to you and I. A few of their beliefs are echoed in reality, though. For instance, it’s common for doctors to set themselves up as professional corporations (ie. “Dr. John Smith MD PC”) for liability protection, so while you are treated by flesh-and-blood Dr. John Smith, if he screws up you have to sue corporate entity Dr. John Smith MD PC who conveniently never maintains any assets. As to the US Gov’t being illegitimate, well, my wife is Native American and while she is not anti-government, it’s not hard to see at least a defensible argument among some Natives that a group of white newcomers signing a piece of paper in Philadelphia in 1776 did not create legitimate rights over people who had already been here for thousands of years.

      It’s especially hard on courts though because the movement is kind of loose and so each sovereign or group has their own interpretations and rules and often pseudo-legal terminology making it difficult for police and judges to prepare for how to deal with them. For judges in particular, they have to deal with the dual difficulties of having to protect the rights of sovereign defendants including dealing with many pro-se litigants who won’t cooperate with the court system because they view any form of cooperation, including answering “yes” to a simple question like “Are you John Smith?” from the court, as a form of contract with the government that causes them to lose their sovereign status.

      • Andy, if you want to see how a sovereign is made you should attend a meeting or seminar. What they do is offer someone who is not financially stable a way to side step paying taxes or anything else doing with the government. The fact that they are willing to violate the law and put peoples lives in danger over a false belief that the US government is illegitimate is what makes them the most dangerous terrorist group in America.

      • Thankh u for your comment. Highly appreciated. As a MOORISH National I had a recent case dismissed around December. Yes I have been in trouble in my past of non violent crimes. My spiritual journey & my passion of research & my love to be free; led me to get back to my roots. Nationality is above sovereignty. I am a uber driver who decided to stop doing Passengers & just do the food delivery. Well I decided to put my “PRIVATE” plates back onto my car. Well private plates can be a Police officers AKA policy ENFORCERS curiosity to pull U over. Well this time I got pulled over once again that got me the case in December “failure to identify p-o-fugitive”. Well they found a baggy with capsule. Guess who is charged? Easy guess. Why? My past drug dealing days. Well now a case poss CS PG <1gr. Remember I said I uber. Well as a Moor National I had to challenge the subject matter, present my status, blah blah blah. Judge threw me in the back for Contempt. Let me go through the other courtroom and set it for trial MONTHS down the line. Well I filed a "WRIT OF REMOVAL" ; placed a lien also on all organizations involved; my case was APPROVED into the proper venue AKA FEDERAL COURT. So those who bash the rights of the original people of NORTHWEST AMEXEM[AFRICA], TURTLE ISLAND, MOROCCO; is the problem to this reality. If we don't know our PAST; then how in the HELL we can fix our FUTURE??? Peace and blissings.

  4. Follow-up: For an interesting read on when a sovereign citizen’s obstructive behavior may constitute a forfeiture of his right to counsel, see State v. Mee, 233 N.C. App. 542 (2014).

  5. Here’s a great video of one of the most patient judges in the country tossing a sovereign citizen’s arguments right back at him:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7h7uevwxt8

    It really is great to watch.

    • That was great. I wish more judges would do this.

  6. Interesting news article re: more than two dozen sovereign citizens arrested in Robeson County today. Defendants are charged with running unlicensed casinos, marijuana grow operations, and their own police force:

    https://www.wral.com/robeson-casinos-raided-dozens-of-sovereign-citizens-arrested/17715724/

  7. Please I need Help. I’m a 74 years old and I bouth a Home was in foreclosure. But a sovereing citizen was living there. after more than a thousand days with out paying the m ortgage company sold the house to me.
    already almost 2 years, legal evicted but refuse to get out. many time he was lying to judges in court, I spent a lot of money in lawyers. Now he use strawmen papers and declaring himself like a corporation and owner of my house
    Do you know any lawyer who can help me. Please Help me.

    • You should not have bought such a questionable home under the trust of your government. Especially if the true owner claims alloidial title. Mortgage companies are engaged in fraud and often with the aid of county officials.

  8. You need consent for a lot of things. To railroad a group of people through a court proceeding because of a belief system protected by the 1st amendment, will lead to an angry mob at the justice’s doorstep. You won’t have enough uniforms to hold them back.

    • I’m not sure how a belief system that is based on putting others in danger by driving a car without insurance or registration is protected by the 1st amendment. When a sovereign is stopped by police the sovereign turns a simple traffic stop into a debate of wits that puts both the sovereign and officer in danger. Than either putting unlawful leans on the police officers property or threatening their life or that of their family is also not a1st amendment issue either. Fact is that a sovereign will use part of the same document they call illegitimate makes me wonder about anyone who defends them. The last sentence of your post says everything about how you feel about the people who would die to protect the rights you want to demand of others.

  9. Just a heads up: The fraudulent government (DUNS # 052714196 is just once facet) has been exposed to some and now the terrorist mafia cabal is trying to use deception and criminal force to keep the delusion of power despite having no authority and running a massive money and credit laundering racket.

    This is one such site that propagates Sedition against the American People. The writings here are tantamount to Treason and sites like this must be pursued in the future as the unlawful legal system is dismembered and dismantled. Not long from now, we will begin to attain the means to enforce the Law on these ruthless commercial actors perpetuating fraud against the Amrican Union States and their People and they shall (must) be put to death accordingly.

  10. So I have 2 federal lawsuits pending, and 5 more traffic stops in less than a yr ready to file on. Now clearly I’m not a SOVEREIGN CITIZEN, I actually swore an oath to the constitution of way of US Army as my father and grandfather… I study law everyday and found this piece researching, and every single traffic stop I’m labeled a sovereign citizen merely for exercising my right to not self incriminate, it’s my argument that because I exercise my rights is the reason for the infringements not that probable cause exists of a crime with a STANDING PARTY of damages.
    State laws are to not conflict with protected rights… Marbury v Madison, Article 6 clause 2, 9th and 10th amendment’s, it’s clear as day what the law expresses… so traffic laws are merely public safety standards not criminal, yet in the lower courts of the EXECUTIVE BRANCH has no judicial authority hence the separation of powers act so it’s a unlawful process but a legal process, two different things… state employee judges, state employee prosecutors, state employee cops who stand party of a plaintiff… a direct conflict of interest and unconstitutional… of course the magistrate judge will rule in favor of the state because of financial interest…
    So if a citizen follows case law why would sovereignty come into play? Murdoch v Pennsylvania clearly states NO STATE shall convert a right into a privilege and issue a license and fee… key words, STATE and LICENSE AND FEE… so if a citizen needs food, health care, work, and all the functions of life, one would need a automobile… but the state has made laws to conflict with the 1st amendment to live your life as you see fit just don’t violate the law or rights of the people, Shuttlesworth v Alabama explains if the state passes a law in conflict of the constitution, you can ignore that law with immunity, so with these facts how does one like myself get labeled a sovereign citizen when in fact I’m quoting case law?
    Sure, Murdoch v Pennsylvania is a religious test case, yet the ruling of no state shall covert rights into privilege is universal for any right, and if you argue that point, where are you when a state actor is in state court standing party to victimless crimes under color of law, not even in authority to hear a JUDICIAL DUTY case,article 3 sec 2…
    That’s not fiduciary duty or oath to the constitution or the people, its acting outside of law, and not protected acts hence title 18 sec 241, 242 and title 42 USC 1983…
    Its amazing I’ve yet to be clearly explained to why I’m a sovereign citizen, my last arrest was because a previous stop took my out of state plates off my vehicle because I couldn’t get it tagged or a license because yet again another state law with child support, tho I already pay child support, and never signed any agreement to the state… but I have to work, eat, visit my children, I need to pay to have my 1st amendment??? Wtf…
    State law is not constitutional in many way because its state by state, yet constitution is national…
    So I bring all my cases to federal court because no other person has helped to make it clear why the constitution rights I’ve exercised has labeled me a pathetic sovereign… especially after the law my family fought for… to add to the disrespect I’m native aboriginal of the Navajo, my country taken and turned into this where I’m guilty… that’s messed up, my grandfather captured a nazi gunner and keep the flag my family has been debating on museum or Ebay, I want it in a museum because it history, but geesh the disrespect is not frickin cool, so like my grandpa I’m going to war for my rights, rights I’ve yet to receive from state actors…

    • Not even sure where to start but this will do: “so traffic laws are merely public safety standards not criminal, yet in the lower courts of the EXECUTIVE BRANCH has no judicial authority” No, traffic laws are just like any other laws since the state legislature votes on them. Second, there is no “lower court” of the executive branch. Then we tackle the nonsense of “no state shall convert a right….”. States aren’t doing that. You have every right to travel and no one will stop you. But if you use a motor vehicle and drive on public roads, you have to follow State laws. Try reading the 10th Amendment. It’s a real eye-opener! And the reason people keep referring to you as a sovcit is because you are spouting the same nonsense they do.

    • 💯💯💯💯

      • The People is Sovereign as a whole justification of Statute”Person” in under Oath of Affirmation. Notwithstanding Law of Supreme Courts an Statutes at Large.. not Any Of The Seven Elements of Jurisdiction or Any Part of those Seven elemental Principals. Never met. The Supremacy Clause and Just Law if The Land.. Not LEGAL- FICTION of open Sea waterways and canals.. the omitted conclusive in all 127 Law books Dictionaries etcetera since 1600’s – till 2020..

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