The Associated Press
LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Jim Sanders doesn't believe law enforcement can pull over vehicles simply for speeding.
The north-central Indiana man also believes that being stopped constitutes a false emergency and that being held for more than a minute is an arrest. Sanders considers himself a "sovereign man" or a "freeman," asserting that American-born citizens answer only to independent authority and not the government, the Journal & Courier reports.
A Tippecanoe Superior Court jury found Sanders guilty last November following a jury trial that lasted about eight hours — the longest jury trial for a traffic infraction that Judge Michael Morrissey has presided over. The jury found Sanders liable for driving 65 mph in a 50 mph zone. He paid the $153 fine with a brick-sized box full of loose dollar coins, loose pennies and a few rolls of dimes to pay the fine.
"If I could've, I would've taken 16,000 pennies," said Sanders, who lives in Mulberry, about 15 miles southeast of Lafayette. "Why? Because somebody has to protest this. This was my protesting in a peaceful manner."
Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington declined to comment on the case because Sanders is planning to appeal.
Sovereign citizen followers rely largely on common law to justify why they're exempt from certain rules and regulations, such as speed limits.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that we are sovereign people, a sovereign nation made up of kings and queens having no subjects," Sanders said, referring to a portion the U.S. Supreme Court case Chisholm v. Georgia. "Subject only to God, the Constitution and 'lawful laws.'
"The Supreme Court has made many rulings . you can't take a right and turn it into a privilege and make you get a license and charge you a fee for it," he said. "They've also made a ruling that you have the right to travel freely and unencumbered."
The growing popularity of the sovereign citizen movement and other anti-government movements prompted the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Indiana to hold a training course recently for prosecutors across the state. Some Tippecanoe County deputy prosecutors attended.
"Sovereign citizens seem to be popping up quite frequently in central Indiana," said Tim Horty, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman. "They pose problems for us with voluminous pleadings, convoluted pleadings that are problematic and sometimes overwhelming to prosecutors."
In federal court, most of the cases have been for people who created false documents such as vehicle registrations and paperwork alleging to be valid mortgage payments.
Sanders said he is not part of any larger sovereign citizen movement or group. He said he does not support acts of violence that have been committed by some sovereign citizens.
The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists to be domestic terrorists who may turn violent if their ideology is threatened.
The sovereign citizen movement is perhaps most visible within the court system, as its proponents use the ideology to challenge criminal charges or traffic tickets.
"They file this gibberish, paperwork with things in them that make no sense whatsoever and try to make them legal documents," Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey said.
Coffey said Sanders signs all his paperwork "without prejudice and under duress," meaning that the government is forcing him to do something against his will.
Sanders said he began looking into sovereign citizens a few years ago, when his son, Thomas, received a speeding ticket. Sanders believes law enforcement cannot pull over vehicles simply for speeding. He further alleges that being stopped constitutes a false emergency and that being held for more than a minute is considered an arrest.
Sanders said he has a valid driver's license and registers his vehicle with the state. But he admits to purposely trying to get pulled over by police, to try to use the sovereign man ideology to challenge traffic tickets in court.