Law Enforcement Bulletin

Sign up for newsletters and other news
Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > April 2013 > Sovereign Citizen Encounters: What Officers Should Know

Law Enforcement Bulletin RSS feeds

Sovereign Citizen Encounters: What Officers Should Know

A peace officer patrolling State Route 23 spots a vehicle with no license plates and initiates a traffic stop. When he approaches the car, the driver refuses to roll down his window completely and — when asked to produce a driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance — slides a stack of paperwork through the window. One document indicates the car is registered to “The Kingdom of Heaven.” When the officer questions the registration, the driver responds, “I am a freeman traveling on the roads.”  
Perhaps you’ve experienced such a scenario, leaving you confused and unsure how to proceed. The characteristics of this situation — the driver’s strange conduct and his pile of paperwork — are indicative of an encounter with a “sovereign citizen.” While it’s important not to generalize, some of these individuals have been known to use violence, and interactions with them may put officers in a vulnerable position.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) recently collaborated with the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program (SLATT) to present a course on the sovereign citizen movement and how to deal with such individuals’ efforts to cause difficulty for law enforcement.
Sovereign citizens are extremists or radicals who claim they are a government unto themselves. They say they have the right to reside in the United States without being under U.S. or state government control. Sovereigns typically don’t pay taxes, register vehicles, or obtain driver’s licenses. They also create their own “legal papers” and claim they are subject only to English common law.
Sovereigns generally dislike law enforcement, and some have turned to physical violence. For this reason, officers should exercise caution when interacting with them.
Although sovereign citizens share no common physical characteristics, peace officers can look for certain indicators to help identify them. For instance, a sovereign citizen’s vehicle may not have a license plate, or it may have a fake plate for a non-existent state or country. The vehicle may have anti-government bumper stickers or window decals that say “Posse Comitatus,” meaning “Power of the County.”
When an officer approaches a sovereign citizen’s vehicle, the citizen may not roll down the window or may roll it down only enough to pass through a lot of papers. This paperwork typically consists of fake documents explaining that the vehicle is registered in a fake country or state or registered under the Uniform Commercial Code. 
The sovereign may make statements such as “I am a common law citizen,” “I am a non-resident alien,” “I am a Christian citizen,” or “I am a Moor.” Sovereigns contend that the act of driving is “doing business” and that the government is a corporation, with law enforcement officers serving as agents of that corporation. So rather than “driving,” the citizen may say he is traveling on the land or that his vehicle isn’t being used for business.
The sovereign citizen may even attempt to record his interactions with you, request that you recite portions of the Constitution, or ask you to recite your peace officer’s oath.
If you write a citation, the sovereign may refuse to sign the ticket or may sign the ticket and add “UD” or “TDC,” meaning “under duress” or “threat, duress, coercion.” The citizen also may include symbols in his signature or sign only a first name.
If you determine that you are dealing with a sovereign citizen, the most important thing to do is approach the interaction the same as you would with any other person. If, during the traffic stop, the citizen doesn’t produce a proper license, registration, or proof of insurance, proceed as you would with any other stop.
Sovereign citizens try to confuse law enforcement with their comments and paperwork. It is important that you maintain control of the situation. Also, don’t hesitate to call for backup if you feel it necessary.
It is wise for law enforcement agencies to develop a policy and procedure for responding to interactions with sovereign citizens. With knowledge of sovereign citizens’ tactics and a departmental policy and procedure for responding, officers have a better opportunity to identify these individuals and respond appropriately.
Morgan A. Linn
Assistant Attorney General and Legal Analyst
For information on OPOTA courses: Visit or e-mail