Teresa L. Todd
You can’t be lazy just because they’re crazy. You can’t phone this in—prepare a sovereign citizen (SC) case as you would any other. In fact, be even more on your toes than usual because unrepresented SC defendants will not be bound by the rules of evidence or the boundaries of common decency. They will say anything, and prosecutors had better be ready to respond.
Do your homework (just like Mama said). Read up on the SC movement and know what you are up against. Also brush up on contempt of court and be ready to use it. Conduct voir dire on the SC movement, anti-government extremists, and jury nullification verdicts to flush out any SC sympathizers who are challengeable for cause (but remember that everyone has some issues with the government, so tread lightly). Prepare that killer cross you may never get to do.
The best defense is a good offense. If the defendant takes the stand, go on the offensive by quizzing him about SC beliefs, making sure to use SC buzzwords. The conversation may sound like another language to the judge and the jury, but the defendant will clearly understand that you have infiltrated his insane little world, and the effect will be immediate. Also, point out inconsistencies, as there is usually a strong financial component that accompanies the SC philosophy (tax evasion, unwillingness to pay government fees but willingness to accept the accompanying benefits [e.g. driving, business ownership, etc.]).
When things go wrong, expect the worst. Expect a crazy filing every day; expect to be personally slandered and defamed; and expect the defendant to disrespect you, the judge, and the jury. A toddler behaves like a toddler, after all, and we can’t expect an SC to behave like anything other than an SC. Expect the defendant to bring his own jury charge (from the Citizens Rule Book Jury Handbook) or otherwise attempt to co-opt the proceedings into an SC “common law” court. Easily refute any claim that you do not have authority to prosecute by introducing your oath of office or similar documentation.
Keep Calm and Prosecute On. SCs love to get the prosecutor, the judge, and the jury all off track—confuse and distract is their motto! Breathe, stay calm, and stay focused on (and keep bringing the judge or jury back to) the defendant’s unlawful, charged conduct. The judge and jury must see the prosecutor—in stark contrast to the defendant—as the voice of reason, respect, authority, and calm in the artificially induced storm. Exude confidence, no matter what happens.
Call for backup. Marshal extra law enforcement during court. It shouldn’t be hard, as an SC trial is a circus worth watching. Call Jon English, research attorney at TDCAA, or Thea Waylon at the Justice Court Training Center (if the offense is a Class C) for advice, or visit with other prosecutors like me who have been down this long, strange road. You are not alone.
Don’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, these SCs are a lot like schoolyard bullies. After six weeks of sound and fury, my case went down with a whimper. Why? Because the State was prepared, because the defendant was guilty, and because the system worked.
Order in the court. Do not underestimate how disruptive SCs want to be to our court proceedings. Things may get out of control or hang on the edge for what seems like forever. This is normal. Have your “just add insanity” objection(s) ready when the case starts going off the rails, and ask the court to impose reasonable time limits in advance to keep the trial moving.
God bless America! Be respectful of the SCs First Amendment right to have his own opinions, and just try the case itself. Demonizing the defendant could backfire and create sympathy for the jury, adding fuel to the fire of the SC’s victim argument. Let the defendant alienate the jury, and don’t object while he does so.
This too shall pass. I truly believe than an SC case will only be bizarrely, excruciatingly difficult the first time. The rest will just be variations on a theme, and the theme will not be played as often or as loudly if the prosecutor does the job right the first time.