Bogus Legal Theory of Sovereign Citizen

I've received comments from individuals with real legal issues who have been misguided by bogus legal theories appearing online. Whatever legal information you come across, including information on this site, don't treat it as absolute truth, do your own independent research.

There are many legal misconceptions that if adopted, can wreak havoc with a person's chances of winning their case. Many people have bought into bogus legal theory, based upon law which doesn't actually exist.  One of the most quoted bogus legal theories is Sovereign Citizen.

The following information is provided to explain my understanding of Sovereign Citizen and to assist with your further research to make a better-informed decision. Let me again state that I am not a lawyer, so you should not consider this legal advice. I do not provide legal advice, only legal information, which you should use as a basis to perform your own research.

In the video above, Rachel Maddow points out that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's racist remarks are unsurprising in the context of his apparent adherence to the philosophy of the Posse Comitatus and Sovereign Citizen movements, rooted in post-Civil War reconstruction. Bundy at one point stated that black people might be "better off as slaves". Those remarks begin at about 19:10 in the video's timeline.

Sovereigns citizens believe among other things that an illegitimate, usurper federal government has taken over, and that they don’t have to pay taxes, pull over their cars for police or obey any other law they don’t like. Many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes.

Sovereign citizens take the position that they are answerable only to their particular interpretation of the common law and are not subject to any statutes or proceedings at the federal, state or municipal levels; that they do not recognize United States currency; and/or that they are "free of any legal constraints."

Sovereign Citizens believe that the County Sheriff is the most powerful law-enforcement officer in the country, with authority superior to that of any federal agent, elected official or local law-enforcement official. Sovereign theory is often based on the misapplication of common law. Municipalities and counties obtain their power from the State; they can exercise no power not given by the state.

Many Sovereign Citizens believe that the flags displayed in State courts and courts of the United States that have gold or yellow fringes is your WARNING that you are entering into a foreign jurisdiction, the same as if you are stepping onto foreign soil and you will be under the jurisdiction of THAT flag. Many further believe the flag with the gold or yellow fringe represents the 'Law of Admiralty', has no constitution, no laws, and no rules of any court, and is not recognized by any nation on this earth, and is foreign to the United States of America.

Gold Fringed Flag

Included in Sovereign Citizen doctrine is the statement that President, Dwight David Eisenhower signed Executive Order No.10834 on August 21, 1959 and had printed in the Federal Register at 24 F.R. 6865, pursuant to the law, stated that: "A military flag is a flag that resembles the regular flag of the United States, except that it has a yellow fringe border on three sides". As the saying goes, "a half-truth is worse than a whole lie". Executive order 10834 was indeed signed on August 21, 1959, by Eisenhower, but it does not mention anything about yellow or any other fringe. Read it for yourself at with fringed flagsThe fringe on the flag is for decorative purposes only. The law that defines the flag and its use is USC Title 4 Chapter 1

When a person goes to court and presents arguments based upon Sovereign Citizen or any other bogus legal theory, they will most likely lose. The law is written down and can easily be found once you learn where to look. The most difficult part of the law is that it is subject to interpretation and that interpretation is based on the particular circumstances of a case. That means that two people can commit very similar acts under different circumstances and have completely different outcomes in the same court. This is why legal research is so important.

Bar Association

Another concept popular among sovereign citizens is that the BAR association operates an illegal monopoly which is the sole reason why the courts are so corrupt. Some people believe it's a violation of RICO and a major conflict of interest to hire an attorney, who is a member of the bar association because judges and prosecutors are also members of the BAR.

Missouri Revised Statutes, 484.020 and 484.040 among others are included in the licensing laws of Missouri. I agree that lawyers operate a monopolistic judicial system which is often unfair and corrupt, but that system does carry the force of law which is enforced by the state's police powers.

Since many people can't afford the $200-300 average per hour fee charged by attorneys, it's easy to understand the sentiment that lawyers operate an illegal monopoly. Until that monopoly is abolished by legislation or the courts, it is valid and will continue. Often, the only viable solution is to represent yourself.

Next Friend

In place of an attorney, sovereigns believe they can be represented in court by a next friend. Next friend under the law is an individual who acts on behalf of another individual who does not have the legal capacity to act on his or her own behalf, such as a minor or mentally disabled person. In most court proceedings, only an attorney is allowed to represent or speak on behalf of another person. Missouri Revised Statutes 507.184 defines the powers of a next friend. The Missouri Supreme Court rules for next friend is 52.02(b) and the application for next friend is presented under rule 152.

Common law

Sovereign Citizens often refer to common law to support their theories.

Federal and state law, including constitutions and statutes, contain elements of the law adopted from English common law. Common law can be confusing. First, you must understand there are virtually 50 common law systems within the United States; the federal courts and 49 state courts.

Louisiana is the only state whose legal system is based on "civil law" rather than "common law."  A judge in Louisiana at least, in theory, decides a case based on his/her own interpretation of the code, not those of prior courts. In the other states, judges are supposed to make decisions based exclusively on previous rulings; if similar issues have already been decided. The Federal Government and each of the other 49 states rely on court decisions called precedents, which is the major U.S. component of common law.

The common law is over a thousand years old and certain elements of it exist only in the absence of opposing statutory law. If a law is enacted which differs from the common law, the common law is superseded by the new statute. For example, the common law crime of Apostacy, the ancient criminal offense of atheism or not being Christian, is not valid in the United States. The Constitutions of all 50 states and the Federal Government provide freedom of religion which superseded the former common law regarding Apostacy. Just because a common law existed and was valid yesterday, does not make it valid today, it depends upon the actions of legislatures and the courts.

Other former common law principles have been codified into statutes. For example, the former common law of Blackmail, the obtaining or attempting to obtain something by the use of threats, is no longer used as the formal modern day criminal title; it is now captured within the criminal offense of extortion. However, the definition of blackmail is fully understood by most and is still part of popular language and culture, but was superseded by legislative statute.

Even previous court precedents are superseded by new statutes. When a court rules that something is not valid under the law, the legislature can change the law, thus making the practice valid. A law that is unconstitutional can be changed to conform to the requirements of the constitution and the constitution itself can be changed.

Power and Legitimacy

Sovereign citizens often believe the government doesn't exercise legitimate power. So the question must be raised, what is power?

"Power is a curious thing…Three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? … Power resides where men believe it resides; it's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow." – Game of Thrones

Power is the ability to influence or control the behavior of people. Power can be freely given or it can be taken by force. The term "authority" is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Authority is the right to exercise power given by the State in the form of government, judges, police officers, etc. Legitimacy is when something or someone is recognized and accepted as right and proper.

Traditional legitimacy derives from societal custom and habit. Traditionalists understand this form of rule as historically accepted, hence, its continuity, because it is the way society has always been. Rational-legal legitimacy derives from a system of institutional procedure, wherein government institutions establish and enforce law and order in the public interest.

In the United States, legitimacy usually is understood as the popular acceptance and recognition by the public of the authority of a governing body, exercising authority and political power through consent and mutual understandings, not coercion. Prior to the American Revolution, the people recognized and accepted England's power and authority. A small number of influential men decided to rebel against England, created a new government, and other men simply decided or had no choice but to participate and acknowledge the new government.

The United States Government has become an empire with vast resources and exerts great influence around the globe. The military might and police power of the government will continue to support the government as long as those institutions believe our government is legitimate, regardless of opposing legal theory or ideology.

There are laws, rules, and procedures that are considered legitimate. During the early years of U.S. History, the Supreme Court exercised a power it did not have during its decision in Marbury vs. Marshall. However, everyone involved went along with the decision, so the Supreme Court is now considered to have the legitimate power of judicial review, the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution.

Even if you consider the justice system a game, like all games, there are rules. To win the game, you must learn the rules and how to apply them.

Court Decisions

There do not appear to be any published Missouri court cases that have addressed the Sovereign Citizen issue.

The Federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in downtown St. Louis, addressed the Sovereign Citizen theory over thirty years ago in United States v. Hart, 701 F. 2d 749 – Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit 1983. The following statement is contained within that court opinion:

"The inferior federal courts, appellant asserts, have no "civil jurisdiction over a sovereign citizen." Brief for Appellant, p. 4. We disagree. Several valid Acts of Congress confer jurisdiction on the District Court over this case, as its Memorandum Opinion, filed August 17, 1982, correctly states. For example, 26 U.S.C. § 7402(a) gives the District Court jurisdiction "to render such judgments and decrees as may be necessary or appropriate for the enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws." See also 28 U.S.C. §§ 1340, 1345, 1357."

In US v. Benabe, 654 F. 3d 753 – Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2011, the court made stated the following:

Our intention is not to quash the presentation of creative legal arguments or novel legal theories asserted in good faith. But the arguments raised by these defendants were not in good faith. We have repeatedly rejected their theories of individual sovereignty, immunity from prosecution, and their ilk. See United States v. Burke,425 F.3d 400, 408 (7th Cir.2005); United States v. Hilgeford, 7 F.3d 1340, 1342 (7th Cir. 1993) (rejecting the "shop worn" argument that a defendant is a sovereign and is beyond the jurisdiction bounds of the district court); United States v. Sloan, 939 F.2d 499, 500-01 (7th Cir.1991); United States v. Schneider, 910 F.2d 1569, 1570 (7th Cir.1990) (describing defendant's proposed "sovereign citizen" defense as having "no conceivable validity in American law"); United States v. Phillips, 326 Fed. Appx. 400 (7th Cir.2009) (dismissing jurisdiction arguments as frivolous because federal courts have subject matter and personal jurisdiction over defendants brought before them on federal indictments alleging violations of federal law). Regardless of an individual's claimed status of descent, be it as a "sovereign citizen," a "secured-party creditor," or a "flesh-and-blood human being," that person is not beyond the jurisdiction of the courts. These theories should be rejected summarily, however, they are presented. These defendants raised their immunity arguments with the trial court, which properly dismissed them.

Although courts are supposed to be impartial arbiters of justice, they are administered by people who are themselves biased. Corporations and wealthy individuals by virtue of their ability to afford representation have an advantage in our legal system.

Courts can be unfair and even corrupt at times; especially to racial minorities and those without the resources to adequately defend themselves. The sad reality is the courts are often our only option, so it's best to gain an understanding of how they function. 

Systems are always rigged to protect the wealth, power, and self-interest of those who created them, however, even rigged systems have rules; start learning them! Never forget "rules are made to be broken"; often referred to as exceptions by the courts.

Put the power of the law in your hands