The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Williamson on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Defendant John S. Williamson has been protesting taxes for 30 years. In May 2008 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) levied his wife’s wages to collect his back taxes. The IRS sent a notice of the levy, which Defendant returned, writing across the document: “Refused for cause. Return to sender, unverified bill.” In June 2008, Defendant sent an invoice for $909,067,650.00 to two IRS agents who had worked on the matter. The invoice listed the value of real and personal property allegedly seized by the IRS, added damages for various alleged torts, and then trebled the total “for racketeering.”
In December 2008, Defendant and Mrs. Williamson filed with the clerk of Bernalillo County, New Mexico, a claim of lien against the agents’ real and personal property for the same amount as the invoice. A grand jury indicted Defendant and Mrs. Williamson on two counts: (1) “corruptly endeavor[ing] to impede the due administration of the Internal Revenue Code by filing a false and fraudulent Claim of Lien,” in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a); and (2) “fil[ing] . . . a false lien and encumbrance against the real and personal property [of the IRS agents] on account of the performance of [their] official duties,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1521.
Defendant’s defense at trial was essentially that he genuinely believed his lien was proper. A forensic psychologist testified that Defendant suffered from a delusional disorder that prevented him from abandoning his beliefs even when confronted with overwhelming evidence that he was wrong. Defendant requested instructions that would support his “genuine belief” defense to both charges, but the court rejected them and the jury returned verdicts of guilty on the two charges.
Defendant argued on appeal that the jury instruction concerning § 7212 should have informed the jury that he could be guilty only if he intentionally violated a known legal duty. The Tenth Circuit reviewed for plain error because at trial, defense counsel only argued the instruction should also contain a definition of “unlawful.” The court held that there was no plain error and that the rule of lenity did not apply because the “doubt required for the rule of lenity must be doubt raised by an adequately preserved argument.”
The court also rejected Defendant’s challenge to the § 1521 jury instruction for not including his requested good-faith defense. The § 1521 statute prohibits filing a false lien “having reason to know” it was false as well as knowingly filing a false lien. “Having reason to know” includes an objective component. A reasonable person knowing what Defendant knew would know the lien Defendant filed was false. Therefore, Defendant was not entitled to a good-faith defense instruction. The court affirmed his convictions.