Anybody who has read much of my blog probably has realized that I don't think much of "tax protestor" movements like the one Wesley Snipe got involved with. There are websites and books and information available in all kinds of places about these "tax protestor" arguments. They claim that there is no law that imposes an income tax liability or a duty to file a tax return. (They continue to make these absurd claims even after having the various provisions of the Code, regs and other authorities pointed out to them.) The arguments are often based on taking a Code provision out of context (e.g., provisions that cover the sourcing of income for non-U.S. residents who only pay tax on their U.S.-sourced income) or amalgamating historical antecedents with current day law and regulations to claim that there is a loophole they can walk through to find their goal of "no duty to pay taxes." The arguments are facially frivolous and not founded in any reasonable basis. Moreover, no American who has paid attention to anything other than his navel could reasonably argue that he "genuinely believes" that there is no such duty.
But today I received a letter. It is printed on expensive rag content paper, with an attorney's name prominently displayed at the top (from Shreveport, Louisiana) and it is addressed to me regarding my availability to be engaged as an expert witness on behalf of tax protestors who want to use the "Cheek" defense to criminal tax evasion charges. The "Cheek" defense derives from a Supreme Court case, Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991). It provides that a genuinely held belief negates the willfulness requirement of criminal statutes.
Here, the claim that the defendants' attorneys are hoping to make is that tax protestors can have a genuinely held belief that failure to file returns/pay taxes does not violate any known legal duty. The attorney claims in the letter that these defendants "have formed their beliefs after a thorough and careful reading of the Internal Revenue Code, regulations, Supreme Court holdings and historical authorities, including all of the past regulations and all tax acts enacted since 1916."
Wow. Even the most careful tax professor who spends a good deal of his or her "spare" time (the time not devoted to committees, or faculty meetings, or teaching, or preparation for teaching, or conferences, or article writing) reading tax authorities--PLRs, regs, notices, cases, statutory amendments, proposed amendments, etc. probably would have trouble claiming to have read "all" past regulations and "all tax acts enacted since 1916" . These defendants are essentially claiming that they are as well-versed in what the tax Code says as any tax practitioner would claim to be--and yet they still make the patently frivolous claim that they arrived at a "genuinely held belief" that failing to file tax returns doesn't violate any legal duty? You gotta be kidding me.
Start with section 1 of the Code, in which a tax is imposed. Continue on and eventually the reader will arrive at section 6012, requiring the filing of tax returns by any person who has gross income for the year in excess of the exemption amount (with certain exceptions). And of course there's section 6013 (joint returns) and section 6072 (stating the time for filing of returns under various provisions) and section 6151 (stating the time and place for making payment of taxes determined to be due under returns).
The Shreveport attorney included a disk, put out by what he terms to be six highly respected and credentialed tax practitioners, including one former IRS collection agent, with the arguments in support of the so-called "Tax Honesty Movement" (which of course should be called the "tax dishonesty--or how to rip off your country and your neighbors by not paying your share of the tax burden--movement").
So just how many tax professors will respond that they think they could serve as expert witnesses on behalf of such defendants? I hope the answer is none.