Municipal courts across Texas in cities of all sizes have encountered individuals that claim to be “sovereign citizens”. Often encountered in municipal court but their numbers are rising so they may also be employees, residents or municipal utility customers. It is likely that all municipal prosecutors, municipal court administrators and judges have encountered individuals in their courts primarily because a sovereign citizen refuses to obtain a driver’s license, automobile registration, license plates or even auto insurance. Encounters with such individuals in a municipal setting with a sovereign citizen has been on the rise coinciding with current political views regarding authority of governing agencies. Texas Municipal Court Education Center has a number of articles on this topic that may prove helpful.
There is a long history on how this movement originated. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “The roots of the movement are racist and anti-Semitic. It was founded by William Potter Gale, former member of the John Birch Society. Potter formed a group of antigovernment Christian Identity adherents who mistrusted state and federal officials. They believed that non-white people were not human, and that Jews possessed a satanic plot to take over the world.”
How does a municipal agency deal with such individuals when an individual claiming to be a sovereign citizen refuses to submit to the jurisdiction of a municipal court, claim the laws of the state and the country are illegitimate, and that neither the city, state or federal government have authority to pass the laws the rest of us are required to abide by and not violate? Such individuals believe they are not subject to laws, and they claim, “personal sovereignty”. Further, sovereign citizens view all government agencies, local, state and federal as illegitimate.
Municipal employees must avoid being provoked and avoid losing patience when dealing with sovereign citizens. Further, Texas Art. 45.201(d), Code of Criminal Procedure states; “it is the primary duty of a municipal prosecutor not to convict, but to see that justice is done.” This applies to all defendants no matter how irritating, recalcitrant or possibly contentious a defendant may be.
Sovereign Citizens seek to exploit any kink or weakness in municipal court proceedings. Sovereign Citizens affect the judicial system at every level with a tactic known as “paper terrorism” clogging courts and government offices with nonsensical voluminous filings, phony lawsuits, fake judgements and liens—sometimes against public officials as a form of harassment.
There is some indication across the Country that there is a link between the sovereign citizen movement and terrorism. For more on that and the FBI’s position on that you can listen to a podcast here.
Recommended steps for an encounter with Sovereign Citizens:
- Deliver procedural justice and treat sovereign citizens fairly, with respect, and in an unbiased manner.
- Be aware, educated and prepared on how to deal with sovereign citizens
- Treat sovereign citizens fairly but firmly; sovereign citizens are entitled to
- justice, but the court should not tolerate disruptive behavior
- Know the law and do not be intimidated (Gov. Code Chapters 29 & 30)
- Be safe and do not allow your frustration level to increase, stay calm and be patient
Proceed with care and caution there is a likelihood according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Treasury, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Attorney Generals, and law enforcement agencies across the country report there is some chance of sovereign citizens being extremists and possibly domestic terrorists.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.