The Case For Abolishing Sovereign Immunity Laws
by Jarret B. Wollstein
On March 26, 1994, 75-year-old Reverend Acelynne Williams was sitting in his living room in Boston, when 13 men with sledgehammers broke down his front door. Screaming as they entered, the heavily-armed intruders threw Rev. Williams to the floor, twisted the old man’s arms behind his back, and roughly handcuffed him. Then they proceeded to utterly ransack his home. Rev. Williams went into cardiac arrest and died.
Who were these vandals? They were members of a Boston police SWAT team searching for drugs and guns. They found nothing. They had the wrong apartment. The Boston police said they were sorry.
If you and I had broken into Rev. Williams apartment, assaulted him, and caused his death, we’d probably be put behind bars for years.
But the men who invaded Williams’ apartment weren’t ordinary citizens. They were cops, and therefore it is unlikely they will be held accountable for his death. Like most government agents and officials, they have sovereign immunity; a virtual license to steal, kill, and destroy.
Sovereign Immunity is the legal doctrine that the sovereign or government and its agents cannot be legally prosecuted for harm done in the line of duty.
This doctrine is a relic of ancient times, when the king or sovereign held absolute power and was above the law. Today, not only is sovereign immunity still the law of the land, it’s been extended to virtually all government agents – from Child Protective Service caseworkers, to IRS agents, to local cops and judges.
Making thousands of government agents legally immune to prosecution is an open invitation to abuse and corruption. Even when police or BATF agents or courts clearly harm innocent people, they usually end up investigating themselves. Not surprisingly, in the overwhelming majority of cases, they find themselves “not guilty.”
Of course, not all government agents are brutal or corrupt. Many act heroically, risking their lives to protect ours. And honest mistakes and self-defense should not be confused with criminal recklessness or corruption.
But as the power of government has grown, so have abuses. Today, the police can legally:
- seize your bank account or home without trial;
- confiscate your business if you’re accused of violating any of millions of incomprehensible rules;
- break into your home without warning and brutalize your family; and shoot you dead if you try to protect yourself – or if they decide you’re a “threat.”
But legal does not mean right. As the Nuremberg War Crime Trials clearly established 50 years ago, pleading “I was only following orders” does not give law-enforcement officers the right to assault, rob, and kill innocent people. There is a higher law, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights: the principle that each of us has an inalienable right to our own life, liberty, and property.
Acts which are crimes for you and me, should and must be crimes for government agents.No government agent has the moral right to assault, rob, or kill any innocent person. And in America, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.
Today, many government officials seem to have forgotten these timeless truths. As a result, government violence is spreading.
In Minnesota, just before Christmas, police pounded on the door of the home of Steve and Peggy Smith. Someone had accused Steve of molesting his two-year-old daughter, Susan. Without any investigation or hearing, police immediately took away both of the Smiths’ children. Only later did the Smiths learn that Steve’s accuser was a neighbor who became upset when she saw Susan sitting on Steve’s lap and playing with the buttons on his shirt.
Steve was not a child molester and was never charged with a crime. The family eventually got their children back. But the legal costs bankrupted them, and they lost their home. The emotional cost to the children is incalculable. If you or I had done this, we’d be sued for everything we own. But police and Child Protective Service agents are protected by sovereign immunity. According to Department of Health and Human Service figures, over 1.2 million parents a year have their children taken from them by the state – either temporarily or permanently.
of 5,000 Innocent People A Week
Jaime Rodriquez and his sons owned a successful restaurant in the Bronx. That was until the DEA seized it. The DEA claimed that one of Rodriquez’s regular customers was a drug dealer. The Rodriquezes themselves were never charged with any crime. They didn’t have to be. Under current US asset-forfeiture laws, anything you own – your car, your home, the money in your wallet, your business – can be confiscated without trial.
According to the Financial Privacy Report, there are now 5,000 police confiscations a week – ranging from pocket cash to multi-million dollar businesses. A study by the Pittsburgh Press, found that 80% of the time, victims of confiscation are not even charged with a crime.
On February 28, 1993, one hundred agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) assaulted the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
Without warning, helicopter gunships fired through the roof and walls of the rambling wooden building which was filled with woman and children. Six Davidians were killed.
The supposed purpose of the raid was to serve a search and arrest warrant on one man – the Davidian’s leader, David Koresh. He was charged with possession of illegal firearms. No one else was accused of any crime.
For 51 days, the Davidians were under siege. Then on April 19, 1993, the FBI launched a second attack. 400 projectiles of potentially-lethal CS-gas were fired through the walls while military tanks systematically demolished the building.
Then FBI troops and tanks fired machineguns, and grenades killing the survivors and setting off three fires.
In the end, 82 innocent people – including 23 children – were killed. No government agents have been charged with any crime and none probably ever will be.
Abuses like the massacre of the Branch Davidians by government agents are the sort of outrages this country was created to prevent. It’s just common sense that you don’t serve search warrants with attack helicopters and tanks. You don’t seize the property of innocent people for alleged offenses of their customers or relatives. And you don’t tear children away from their families based upon unsubstantiated accusations or anonymous tips.
If government officials and agents were subject to the same laws that you and I are, those responsible for these criminal acts would be in prison, and these outrages would end in a heartbeat. But police, prosecutors, and judges are all part of the same club. It practically takes a city-wide riot before they’ll bring charges against their brethren, no matter what crime they’ve committed.
Nearly 700 years ago the English people had to deal with the same sort of outrages. They came up with a solution that changed the course of the world.
In 1215, King John was stealing the property of his subjects at will, taxing them to death, and allowing his soldiers to assault, rape and kill. The leading barons met secretly, created a new compact between the king and the people, and told him to sign it – or else.
Their great charter or Magna Carta, limited taxes, restricted property confiscation, and created many protections for everyone’s rights. The Magna Carta is the foundation of the constitution in every English-speaking country, including America. Today we need a new Magna Carta, a modern Liberty Charter that redefines the relationship between the individual and the state. We are working on that Charter now, and we invite your suggestions. Our Charter:
1. Reaffirms our inalienable right to our own life, liberty, and property; and makes it a crime for government officials and agents to violate those rights.
2. Abolishes sovereign immunity for government agents and officials.
3. Creates independent citizen grand juries and courts to indict and try government officials accused of violating citizens’ rights.
The Liberty Charter can be enacted in one town or county at a time. Once your community adopts it, local officials and police will be subject to the same laws that you and I must obey. And if federal or state agents come into your community and violate your rights, they will be subject to arrest and punishment by local authorities.
Across the country, honest sheriffs and state representatives are fighting to revoke governments’ license to kill, and to restore our rights. Colorado Senator Charles Duke’s 10th Amendment State Sovereignty Resolution has now been adopted by 24 states. Idaho sheriff Gary Aman captures the spirit of the new individual rights movement well:
“I was elected sheriff of Owyhee County in November 1996 by a majority of the people. Therefore, I will protect my citizenry by every means legally possible. . . I will not allow any BLM [Bureau of Land Management] employee to violate any constitutional, statutory, civil or God-given right of the citizens. If any BLM employee violates any state criminal statute or any county ordinance, that person will be arrested.” [Washington Times National Edition, 3-2-97.]
Sovereign immunity has become a license to rob, assault, and kill. To preserve America as a free society and to restore the rule of law, we must revoke that license, and reassert the sovereignty of the individual.
Jarret B. Wollstein was a co-founder of the original Society for Individual Liberty.
This pamphlet was originally published in July 1997. It is part of ISIL‘s educational pamphlet series. Click here for the full index of pamphlets online.