A jury in the United States District Court of Eastern Michigan is deliberating on the evidence provided in the three day trial of Doreen Hendrickson, wife of author and tax honesty activist Peter Hendrickson. Mr. Hendrickson wrote the book, Cracking the Code, the Fascinating Truth about Taxation in America. (CTC) The IRS has tried to suppress the book since the day it was published in 2003.
Mrs. Hendrickson is charged with criminal contempt of court for failing to obey an order issued by Judge Nancy Edmonds of the same judicial district. Judge Edmonds ordered Doreen to sign amended tax forms for which the government dictated the figures. Mrs. Hendrickson doesn’t believe the figures the government supplied represent a true statement of her taxable income.
The IRS insists that Mrs. Hendrickson must sign the forms without indicating that the court is ordering her to do so. The court has put Doreen in the untenable position of swearing to something she doesn’t believe in order to avoid punishment.
She can either perjure herself or go to prison.
It is purely a matter of principle for Doreen, and purely a matter of compelling obedience, and suppressing disfavored information for the federal government. The amount of taxes involved, even using the government’s figures, is zero. It’s not about the taxes for either side.
There is much more at stake in silencing the Hendricksons and punishing them for their heresy than the taxes. The government has sued or brought charges against the couple, separately and together, six times in ten years. Pete and Doreen are not wealthy by any measure. They could not afford legal representation for Doreen in her case. The amount of money Doreen would owe in taxes on the returns at issue, even using government figures, is zero. The amount of tax at issue offers no explanation of the extreme effort the government has made to persecute them and suppress Pete’s book.
It is safe to say the government has already spent many, many thousands of dollars on the series of legal assaults it has brought against the Hendricksons. There is no realistic hope that the government will recover these expenditures in future taxes from them. The government is terrorizing them in order to terrorize us into quite obedience.
The only question before the jury is whether Mrs. Hendrickson has willfully disobeyed a lawful order.
Oh, but there is this one thing. The court has taken the word “lawful” out of the statute in charging Mrs. Hendrickson.
The law under which Doreen is charged says that the court may punish,
“Disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command.”
But astonishingly, the presiding judge, Victoria Roberts, has agreed to instruct the jury that the constitutionality or lawfulness of the court’s order is no defense to the charge. Judge Roberts is simply ignoring the troublesome word “lawful” in the statute.
According to the court’s jury instructions, the order Doreen is accused of disobeying can be completely unlawful, and unconstitutional to boot, and she still has to obey it or go to prison.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the mischief such power might instigate.
If it’s true, it means federal courts can order us to do pretty much anything. It means the courts can compel us to join certain political parties, or social clubs, or civic groups. The courts could order us to discriminate against disfavored ethnic, religious, or racial groups, to swear to facts we know to be false, or even to commit crimes.
This notion doesn’t sound like something Jefferson and Madison would have come up with. It rings of a somewhat more Maoist, or Stalinist legal tradition.
We’re talking forced confessions here. I can hardly think of a more un-American idea. You might wonder what could inspire government officials to attempt such an incredible overreach of their power. I think the answer is because they think we might let them get away with it.
Governments, like all organizations, work to maintain and increase the organization’s power and influence. The fed gov’s organizational goal for us is absolute, unquestioning compliance with its every administrative and legislative whim. I believe the feds see an opportunity to pull off an astonishing power-grab by disguising the repudiation of the First Amendment as a complex tax protest issue.
Federal attorneys are experts at controlling evidence, and receive the full cooperation of the federal courts. If the notions supporting the government’s case against Doreen become widely accepted in the courts, that expertise won’t be necessary any longer. The rules of evidence will become meaningless. If the courts can dictate testimony, the government will always have the evidence it needs. When it doesn’t, it can simply get a judge to order us to say what they want us to say.
This idea represents breath taking increase in federal power. The power grab is riding on the broadly accepted, but entirely unproven notions that “everything that comes in” is taxable and “everybody has to file.” The feds never have to prove or even show that those two presumptions are true.
A large majority of Americans, and thus jurors, accept these presumptions without the least doubt. And those who ask to see the law are simply denied it with the excuse that the court will give the law to the jury.
The government is using these broadly accepted presumptions to bring about an enormous power shift, in favor of the government, in the foundational relationship between the government and the people. If this idea infests the judiciary of the federal courts, government will be able to order citizens to simply confess under oath to whatever crimes the government wants to allege. Judges will be able to order witnesses to say, under oath, just what the court wants to hear.
Such a state of affairs would amount to pernicious thuggery, but without the rubber hoses. Instead of beatings in windowless rooms, grey-suited, brief case bearing functionaries use the threat of long confinement and punishment in the vast and growing federal prison system to accomplish the same things as the beatings of yore.
Additionally, Doreen was ordered to do the impossible. Edmond’s order forbid Doreen’s filing returns that were based on a complete misstatement of the conclusions made in CTC. But since the court misstated the book’s position, it is one that Doreen and Pete have never relied on. You can’t obey and order to refrain from doing something based on a position you’ve never taken and do not intend to take.
Throughout the trial, and throughout the entire ordeal, the government and the courts have consistently accused the Hendricksons of making an argument they never made, i.e., that “wages are not income.” What the Hendricksons actually claim is that payments made to them did not qualify as “wages” as that term is defined in the law. No court has made an honest examination of his claim.
I won’t plunge you into the steaming morass of mind numbing legalese in the Code that Pete slogs through to make his conclusions. Nor is it necessary, because the case against Doreen isn’t about taxes. It’s about obedience to authority and suppression of information embarrassing to the authorities. Nevertheless, the courts find it necessary to consistently misstate the conclusions in Pete’s book to avoid an honest examination of what he really says.
The courts, as we might expect, have rejected Mr. Hendrickson’s assertions about the law. At Doreen’s trial the government made a very big deal about how many courts had rejected the court’s own consistent misstatement of the conclusions in Pete’s book. But Doreen was not allowed to explore the motivations of government actors in their appraisal of the contents of the book, nor was any consideration given to the possibility that Pete’s conclusions are correct.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. Let’s say strictly for the sake of argument, that Pete is right. Let’s say that there are deceptively ambiguous definitions of terms in the Code that change the meaning of the defined words in ways that people are unaware of. And that as a result, people are deceived into paying taxes they do not owe.
For a court to rule that Pete’s conclusions are correct that court would necessarily have to confess to ongoing crimes of deception. Those crimes would involve trillions in fraudulently collected taxes, over the course of several generations. No such admission will be forthcoming from courts that have misapplied the law in support of the swindle that Pete alleges to have discovered.
This isn’t to say Pete is right or wrong, but to show that the courts are anything but impartial, disinterested parties to the controversy. There is no way we can rely on the word of federal courts in this matter, because if Pete is right, those courts are complicit in the deception. The courts’ repeated failure to admit ongoing crimes cannot be used to determine the objective correctness of the information in Cracking the Code.
But the tax arguments are a distraction from the real issue. Doreen’s is not a tax case. It’s a First Amendment case. The charge is “criminal contempt of court.” Doreen is accused of failing to provide a signature under penalty of perjury on a tax form on which the government dictates the numbers based on unsworn third party reports.
The case began when the IRS properly processed Pete and Doreen’s tax returns. On those returns the Hendricksons corrected what they believed were inaccurate reports of their receipt of “wages” as that term is defined in the law. The IRS processed the returns and refunded the money that had been withheld. A few years later, when the Service started receiving a lot more of these returns from readers of Pete’s book, the IRS decided it had made a terrible mistake and sued the Hendricksons to recover the refunds.
Eventually, after failing to ban the book, the IRS whipped up criminal charges against Peter and put him in prison for almost two years.
While Pete was in prison the IRS pressured Doreen to sign amended tax returns containing the figures the government wanted on them, obtaining a court order to that effect. Doreen did everything she could to comply with the court’s order without compromising her principles.
She signed the forms indicating on the face of the returns that she had been ordered to do so. That was not acceptable to the IRS.
Later Judge Edmonds, apparently realizing the problems with compelled testimony, altered her order. She decided to allow Doreen to attach a separate affidavit to the return stating the true facts. Doreen did just that, complying with the order 100%. And by the way, Doreen’s response was in 100% compliance with instructions on the amended tax form itself that require the signer to explain why the original return was being amended. But still the IRS wasn’t satisfied.
The Service applied to the Judge Edmonds for a civil contempt order, but the judge never acted on the motion. Finally the IRS went to the DOJ to press criminal contempt charges.
A fundamental concept at issue in this trial involves the nature of a tax return. Tax returns are a species of affidavit, that is, a sworn, written, voluntary declaration of facts from personal knowledge.
During the trial Doreen tried to explore the idea of whether compelled affidavits were valid. Two DOJ attorneys on cross-examination displayed an embarrassing ignorance of both the nature of affidavits and the details of the internal revenue code. They feigned ignorance and couldn’t say whether a compelled affidavit was valid.
They were almost certainly lying. The nature of affidavits is something that any first year law student should be familiar with. The idea that DOJ tax attorneys don’t know that affidavits must be voluntary is ludicrous. They just don’t want to admit on the record that affidavits must be voluntary.
Affidavits and sworn declarations are the backbone of the truth seeking process in our system of law. Black’s Law Dictionary, a standard reference for lawyers, offers this definition:
“Affidavit. A written or printed declaration or statement of facts, made voluntarily, and confirmed by the oath or affirmation of the party making it, taken before an officer having authority to administer such oath.” (Emphasis Added) Black’s, 6th edition, pg. 58.
The notion of a valid but involuntary affidavit is as alien to our legal traditions as that of a forced confession, and in fact amounts to the same thing.
The idea that administrative agencies like the IRS can go to federal judges and demand that citizen be ordered to say what the agency wants them to say mocks the principles liberty and justice that underlie our institutions.
The jury is our only hope of halting this blatant expansion of federal power. Misinformed though they may be by the court concerning their power to judge the law and dispense justice, the jury is the last barrier we have between us and the absolute power over our lives that the federal government is pursuing in this case.
It is the jury that will have to remember that in this country people cannot be forced to adopt beliefs or state facts they do not honestly think are true.
The jury will have to value and protect civil disobedience to unlawful orders.
The jury will have to prevent the government from benefiting from forced confessions.
And ultimately, the jury that is the last line of defense of our right to speak our minds honestly without fear of punishment from our government.
I pray this jury will recognize and perform its duty to grant justice to a principled woman who refuses to abandon her principles.
 Chapter 21 of U.S.C. 18, section 401(3) (my emphasis)
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