While I fully expect to get comments about how dumb I am and what I don’t know (feel free to post comments if you feel they are relevant), the fact is – you don’t file or pay because you don’t think you have to – dumb move. You will pay and you will file or you will go to prison. Oh, an if you go to prison, as part of the requirement to get that “get out of jail (it ain’t free) card” you’ll file and pay!
Just in case you think I do not know what I am talking about read below:
CHEEK v. UNITED STATES, 498 U.S. 192 (1991)
CHEEK v. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH
Argued October 3, 1990
Decided January 8, 1991
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. 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. In instructing the jury, the court stated that an honest but unreasonable belief is not a defense, and does not negate willfulness, and that Cheek’s beliefs that wages are not income and that he was not a taxpayer within the meaning of the Code were not objectively reasonable. It also instructed the jury that a person’s opinion that the tax laws violate his constitutional rights does not constitute a good-faith misunderstanding of the law. Cheek was convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
- 1. A good-faith misunderstanding of the law or a good-faith belief that one is not violating the law negates willfulness, whether or not the claimed belief or misunderstanding is objectively reasonable. Statutory willfulness, which protects the average citizen from prosecution for innocent mistakes made due to the complexity of the tax laws, United States v. Murdock, 290 U.S. 389 , is the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty. United States v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 . Thus, if the jury credited Cheek’s assertion that he truly believed that the Code did not treat wages as income, the Government would not have carried its burden to prove willfulness, however unreasonable a court might deem such a belief. Characterizing a belief as objectively unreasonable transforms what is normally a factual inquiry into a legal one, thus preventing a jury from considering it. And forbidding a jury to consider evidence that might negate willfulness would raise a serious question under the Sixth Amendment’s jury trial provision, which this interpretation of the statute avoids. Of course, in deciding whether to credit Cheek’s claim, the jury is free to consider any admissible evidence showing that he had knowledge of his legal duties. Pp. 199-204. [498 U.S. 192, 193]
- 2. It was proper for the trial court to instruct the jury not to consider Cheek’s claim that the tax laws are unconstitutional, since a defendant’s views about the tax statutes’ validity are irrelevant to the issue of willfulness, and should not be heard by a jury. Unlike the claims in the Murdock-Pomponio line of cases, claims that Code provisions are unconstitutional do not arise from innocent mistakes caused by the Code’s complexity. Rather, they reveal full knowledge of the provisions at issue and a studied conclusion that those provisions are invalid and unenforceable. Congress could not have contemplated that a taxpayer, without risking criminal prosecution, could ignore his duties under the Code and refuse to utilize the mechanisms Congress provided to present his invalidity claims to the courts and to abide by their decisions. Cheek was free to pay the tax, file for a refund, and, if denied, present his claims to the courts. Also, without paying the tax, he could have challenged claims of tax deficiencies in the Tax Court. Pp. 204-207.
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Title 26, 7201 of the United States Code provides that any person “who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax imposed by this title or the payment thereof” shall be guilty of a felony. Under 26 U.S.C. 7203, “[a]ny person required under this title . . . or by regulations made under authority thereof to make a return . . . who willfully fails to . . . make such return” shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. [498 U.S. 192, 194] This case turns on the meaning of the word “willfully” as used in 7201 and 7203.
Comments: As a white collar crime and business ethics speaker (www.chuckgallagher.com) I have to wonder just how many people are going to get caught up in the illusion that somehow paying taxes will disappear – that somehow their feeble attempt at this worn out old argument will be decided differently. Give it up and file and pay your taxes. Trust me on one thing – time in federal prison isn’t fun and not worth it for the statement you’re making.
Business ethics speaker – Chuck Gallagher – off for now.