Can “Sovereign Citizens” Win in Court? | Florida Traffic Stop

One of the most common questions I get asked is, what’s the deal with the sovereign citizen videos. Do these guys ever win in court? Here’s a brand new one that just made the news in Volusia County, Florida. The bodycam footage was released by the sheriff there, showing two people arrested after claiming essentially that laws don’t apply to them as sovereign citizens. Is there anything to this? 

This happened in Florida. Florida is in the 11th federal circuit. So to find the applicable federal constitutional law, you look first to the U.S. Supreme Court and then to the 11th Circuit. Then elsewhere. The federal courts in Florida and the 11th Circuit have addressed sovereign citizen arguments multiple times. One recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ford v. Antonides, issued in October of 2022, alleges basically these same facts. 

There, the plaintiff, Tyree Ford, filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit from the Lee County Jail, alleging that he was unlawfully arrested after a traffic stop and seeking 2 million dollars in damages. The Court wrote that:

Instead of alleging facts showing that the stop of his car was somehow improper (leading to a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment), Plaintiff bases his claims against Defendant Antonides on an argument that he was immune from the traffic stop she initiated (and that eventually led to his arrest) because he displayed a sign on his car informing her that he was a “Traveler – Not for hire. Private Property.” (Doc. 1 at 6). This argument is similar to those espoused by self-proclaimed “sovereign citizens,” as explained in a 2019 law review article: 

The most common type of Sovereign Citizen claim encountered by local and state police, as well as federal border patrol agents, is the “right to travel.” Citing the Constitution, Supreme Court cases, and a plethora of other sources, Sovereign Citizens believe they are not required to have driver’s licenses, license plates, vehicle registration, or to stop at border or sobriety checkpoints. Similar to other claims, Sovereign Citizens discussing the “right to travel” place special emphasis on the words being used. 

They differentiate between a driver and a traveler; an automobile and a motor vehicle; commercial and non- commercial; and public versus private conveyances. Once a Sovereign Citizen claims that he or she is merely a traveler or traveling, he or she then uses federal and state cases to support the “right to travel.” Sovereign Citizens also believe the right to travel constitutes a complete bar on government interference with travel in the absence of probable cause or evidence that a victim has been harmed. 

These types of claims-that a plaintiff is entitled to different treatment as a “sovereign citizen”-are routinely rejected by federal courts as frivolous. See, e.g., United States v. Sterling, 738 F.3d 228, 233 n.1 (11th Cir. 2013) (noting that so-called “sovereign citizens” are individuals who believe they are not subject to courts’ jurisdiction and that courts have summarily rejected their legal theories as frivolous); United States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753, 761-67 (7th Cir. 2011) (describing the conduct of a “sovereign citizen” and collecting cases rejecting the group’s claims as frivolous, and recommending that “sovereign citizen” arguments “be rejected summarily, however they are presented.”); Reed v. Jones, No. 4:21CV3051, 2021 WL 2913023, at *3 (D. Neb. July 12, 2021) (“sovereign citizen” argument that motor-vehicle registration and licensing laws do not apply to plaintiff rejected as frivolous); Trevino v. Florida, 687 Fed.Appx. 861, 862 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal of 1983 action based on sovereign citizens as frivolous and noting that if those theories challenged the conviction, habeas was the proper avenue of relief). 

Nothing alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint even remotely suggests that he is entitled to relief against Defendant Antonides under recognized theories of relief. And, as noted, Plaintiff’s sovereign citizen argument has been soundly rejected by federal courts. Accordingly, all claims against Defendant Antonides are dismissed from this action as frivolous and for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii). 

There are many more cases just like this using a lot of the same language. Every one of them dismissing the arguments as frivolous and quickly moving on. And that’s just the 11th Circuit. It’s the same around the country. 

So to answer your question, no there’s nothing to it. That’s not to say that I don’t think that Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave at the idea of the government requiring license plates and licenses to operate his carriage. But it’s the reality we live in.