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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tax-Case Acquittals

Anyone who wants to know how someone can be acquitted by a jury in a criminal income-tax case yet still be liable for the taxes should read the Supreme Court opinion in Cheek v. U.S (1991). Here are the opening words:
Petitioner Cheek was charged with six counts of willfully failing to file a federal income tax return in violation of 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) and three counts of willfully attempting to evade his income taxes in violation of 7201.
What? You mean the sections of the law are stated in black and white? But we've been told over and over that the government never says what law is violated in such cases. How about that!
Although admitting that he had not filed his returns, he testified that he had not acted willfully because he sincerely believed, based on his indoctrination by a group believing that the federal tax system is unconstitutional and his own study, that the tax laws were being unconstitutionally enforced and that his actions were lawful.
The Court ruled that Cheek should have been allowed to argue to the jury that he sincerely believed he was not liable for the tax, as unreasonable as that belief may be. His sincere belief goes to the crucial element of willfulness, which is a jury question. (The trial judge had told the jury to disregard the defendants statements to that effect.) But it also ruled that Cheek was properly barred from arguing to the jury that the income-tax law is unconstitutional. That, the justices said, is not a jury question. Some more highlights:
We thus disagree with the Court of Appeals' requirement that a claimed good-faith belief must be objectively reasonable if it is to be considered as possibly negating the Government's evidence purporting to show a defendant's awareness of the legal duty at issue. Knowledge and belief are characteristically questions for the factfinder, in this case the jury....

It was therefore error to instruct the jury to disregard evidence of Cheek's understanding that, within the meaning of the tax laws, he was not a person required to file a return or to pay income taxes and that wages are not taxable income, as incredible as such misunderstandings of and beliefs about the law might be. [Emphasis added.]
The Court sent the case back for retrial, and guess what. The jury didn't believe Cheek's claim of sincerity. It convicted him, and he was sentenced to prison. The conviction was upheld on appeal.

To add insult to injury, Cheek had to pay all the taxes.

That's what I mean when I say a tax law applicable to regular wage earners exists.

1 comment:

Sheldon Richman said...

Anyone with doubts about my claims in this post need only read this summary by Tom Cryer of his own case.

Some quotes from the summary at Free Republic:

"Today, July 11, 2007 Mr. Tommy K. Cryer, a lawyer from Shreveport, Louisiana was found not guilty by a 12-0 verdict on two separate counts of violating Title 26 Section 7203, willful failure to file federal income tax returns for the 'tax-years' 2000 and 2001 respectively, which carried a two-year prison sentence had the government prevailed."

Oops. They specified the section of the law allegedly violated! I thought they never do that.

"He [Cryer's lawyer Larry Becraft] went on to say [in his closing argument to the jury] that the issue in this case is Mr. Cryer’s beliefs and the fact pattern that Mr. Cryer used as he presented his beliefs were so convincingly delivered that even if they did not fully understand the legal interpretations testified to, Mr. Cryer undoubtedly believed those conclusions."

Do you see? His case before the jury had nothing to do with the substance of his belief that the tax did not apply to his wages. The only issue for the jury was the sincerity of his belief. That's because in a criminal case, willfulness is an essential element that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The jurors were told by Cryer's attorney that they didn't even need to understand the content of Cryer's belief to acquit him. Thus they can hardly be said to have ruled that his belief is valid. Incidentally, even if every juror had agreed with Cryer, that would be irrelevant to the verdict. The jury was not asked to rule on the substantive issue of whether the law is constitutional or whether it applies to wages.

Yes, Cryer was acquitted of the criminal counts. But the IRS is still authorized by the courts to collect the taxes and to impose a penalty for late payment. (Same thing happened in Vernice Kuglin's case.) So does Cryer's acquittal prove there is no legal income tax on wages, as some claim? (See this piece of tripe).

Alas, not in the least.