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Sovereign Citizens Say Law Doesn't Apply to Them, Get Arrested Anyway

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 03, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Representing yourself in court is already a bad idea. And we're pretty sure referring to yourself as 'an idiot' and 'incompetent,' all while demanding the court pay you $1 million for your legal service, probably doesn't help matters. But that's the sovereign citizen movement for you.

Wait, what the heck is a sovereign citizen?

Above the Law

If you haven't heard, so-called sovereign citizens declare themselves beyond municipal, state, and federal proceedings and statutes, and claim they are subject to their own interpretation of common law. More of a loose, ideological movement than a single group, sovereign citizens see most, if not all, taxations as illegitimate and respond to criminal charges and civil lawsuits by refuting the authority of judges and court proceedings and declaring themselves "a living sovereign monarch."

At the same time sovereign citizens are attempting to delegitimize existing legal institutions, many have gotten into trouble for filing false legal documents like summons, subpoenas, and liens to government entities and employees. And some states have begun to pass specific statutes making it a crime to issue or distribute such "unlawful instruments."

Under Authority

Perhaps the most public sovereign citizens were members of the Oregon militia that occupied a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. One of the leaders of that group, Ryan Bundy, posed a novel legal theory in court motions relating to his charging, imprisonment, and impending criminal trial:

"I, ryan c, man, am an idiot of the 'Legal Society'; and; am an idiot (layman, outsider) of the 'Bar Association'; and; i am incompetent; and; am not required by any law to be competent ... I, ryan c, man, require fair and just compensation of $1,000,000.00 for acting in any 'Role'; and; i require you to send payment in full; and; in advance, prior to [my] accepting any Role other than man, flesh and blood, made in the image of The Lord God Almighty."

Thus far, these legal arguments have been unpersuasive. And there are few indications that law enforcement and the criminal justice system will take kindly to sovereign citizens' claims that the laws don't apply to them. So if you've been charged with a crime or you're thinking of writing and filing your own legal claims, you may want to contact an experienced attorney first.

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