The venue for the jury trial was auspicious, right in the heart of downtown Philly, the City of Brotherly Love, the Cradle of Liberty. You couldn’t toss an empty out of your pickup without hitting something that celebrated our Constitutional freedoms. If the courtroom walls had miraculously vanished a seven-iron would have given you a shot at ringing the Liberty Bell. A less precise shot would have put your ball into the sea of armed park rangers surrounding it.
In more ways than one, Constitutional freedom ended at the heavily guarded entrance to the Federal Courthouse. Humorless, armed U.S. Marshals greeted everyone with the same no-nonsense scowl. Though no law requires Americans to carry ID, you couldn’t enter the public courthouse without government issued papers. You couldn’t bring in a brief case or backpack, much less a constitutionally protected firearm. After you checked your bag, the Marshals searched and scanned you like the terrorist you could have been.
I was there to see the trial of Mr. Larken Rose, who stood accused of “willful failure to file” tax returns. Mr. Rose spent years researching the tax laws and regulations and concluded he and most Americans are not required to file. I’ve read his report. His case is compelling. He has a mailing list of over 6,000 who also find his case at least worth following. The IRS has long tried to shut him up. They’ve sought injunctions against his website and his report. Failing that, they granted him his request to prosecute him.
The Constitutional education that began at the door continued in the courtroom. I had never been at a federal trial before. The experience stunned me. I expected the civics lesson model of American justice. The defendant, innocent until proven guilty, would get to present his case and his reasoning to a thoughtful jury of concerned fellow citizens. The prosecutor would tell us the law he had broken and show evidence to prove he knew he was breaking it. I attended expecting to see Rose’s legal conclusions debated and either refuted or vindicated. I learned instead that only naïve losers talk about the law in a courtroom.
Episodes of Perry Mason left me poorly prepared for what went on. The prosecutor never mentioned the law. The jury couldn’t have cared less. The defendant was allowed to present about a third of his case. The judge was coaching the prosecutor.
The prosecutor’s job was to convince the jury, not that the defendant didn’t obey the law, but that he didn’t believe what he was saying. The judge explained that in tax cases, belief, no matter how unreasonable, is a defense against willfulness. The prosecutor had to convince the jury that a man who had spent thousands of hours doing research, who had produced reports, videos and CD’s from which he made no money, who had appeared, unpaid, as a speaker, as a witness and on dozens of radio talk shows didn’t really believe what he was saying. The defendant’s motive, according to the prosecutor, was the $3,000 a year he was saving in income taxes. The prosecutor’s job looked impossible to me.
But I didn’t know about the arcane rules of procedure and evidence. I didn’t know about the judge’s determination to make Rose look like a fool. I also thought the evidence would be confined to legal arguments. I was wrong about that, too. The prosecutor never had to mention the law or refute the defendant’s legal position. The judge simply declared it “ridiculous and frivolous.” That ended any discussion of the law.
The prosecutor spent most of his time vilifying the defendant as a tax cheat, scoff law, anarchist, militia sympathizer and all around ignoramus with no legal training. He objected to every document the defendant presented to support his case. He objected to the admission into evidence of any direct quotes from the law.
The defendant made a well reasoned and convincing presentation of what few legal references he was allowed to show the jury. To many of the other untrained minds in the courtroom, his legal citations clearly applied to and supported his case. When he finished the judge once again felt compelled to label them nonsense without refuting them in any way.
The defendant was not allowed to present any of the correspondence he had had with the IRS over a ten year period. The tapes of his interviews with IRS agents were not allowed in evidence, nor their transcripts. Nor were pages from the IRS Manual showing what cases and court decisions were binding on the IRS. The jurors were not allowed to see Mr. Rose’s 60-page report explaining his position in abundant detail. They were not allowed to hear any details of the raid on his home by an IRS SWAT team whose mission was to serve a search warrant.
At one point while Mr. Rose was questioning a defense witness, amid frequent successful prosecution objections, the judge asked the prosecutor, “Don’t you want to object to that, Mr. Miller?” Mr. Miller, nobody’s fool, successfully objected. The witness left the stand having said nothing in Mr. Rose’s defense.
None of this seemed to bother Mr. Rose. He soldiered on like Don Quixote himself. His closing argument, though interrupted twice by the prosecutor and judge, was an eloquent and moving statement of his legal conclusions and his unshakable belief in them. “Woe to the wicked,” thought I.
The prosecutor smeared him again after his closing argument. Then the judge instructed the jury, repeating more than once that the defendant’s position was “ridiculous and frivolous.” The jury, some of whom had visibly nodded off during testimony, returned in less than two hours, including lunch, with their unanimous verdict.
Sentencing is scheduled for November 15. Windmills 1 – Knights Errant 0. Constitution — not a factor.