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Monday, November 3, 2014

Sovereign Citizen or Law Student?

In an effort to receive more notifications of peculiar news stories, I recently set up a Google alert for "sovereign citizen." One story I received today linked to this article from The Police Chief, which describes how officers should approach sovereign citizens in traffic stop situations.

The article notes that many sovereign citizens are not dangerous, but points out that dealing with them can be a tricky undertaking. The article suggests how officers may interact with sovereign citizens without causing the situation to escalate.

One portion of the article, however, struck me as particularly interesting because it struck me as something that would apply just as easily to law students as it would to sovereign citizens. The paragraph on "Officer Safety on Traffic Stops" begins:

Recognize danger signs. Many sovereigns are public about their beliefs and will advertise them on their vehicles. “No Trespassing” or “Don’t Tread On Me” signs or obviously unofficial license plates can warn an officer of a possible encounter with a sovereign. Officers must approach these individuals with a heightened sense of caution and request backup immediately.
Admittedly, this bit of advice will often be inapplicable when the person pulled over is a law student, especially if they are a law student from my alma mater. But the paragraph goes on:

The most common tactic for sovereigns is a steadfast refusal to provide information or comply with simple instructions. They may respond to any question with a counterquestion like, “Under what authority are you detaining me?” They also may even produce an official-looking questionnaire with distracting content like, “Will public servant read aloud the portion of the law authorizing the questions public servant will ask (yes or no),” to delay and confound the officer.
At this point, the article blurs the line between sovereign citizens and law students who have taken a criminal procedure course. In law school, I recall that my classmates who learned about the consent exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement and the breadth of the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination often noted that they would put these rights into practice in future encounters with the police.

One would hope that officers would not equate the enunciation of constitutional rights with sovereign citizenry. I suspect that officers are able to make this distinction, however, since many sovereign citizens apparently provide officers with questionnaires and do all sorts of other strange things.

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