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Sovereign Citizens

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Sovereign Citizens
Special Collection

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Glossary of Terms & Phrases
Relevant Law & Legal Precedents
“Sovereign Citizen” is a blanket term for a type of person who believes themselves to be exempt from the laws of the land. These beliefs come from a variety of sources, and each has their own particular style and reasoning and legal “theories” that are beyond the scope of this Library.

However, many interactions between law enforcement and the public arise out of the act of driving a car, a large portion of sovereign citizen videos online are from traffic stops. Therefore, here’s a list of common SovCit (shorthand for Sovereign Citizen) references that might come in handy if you’re wondering “what in the heck is going on in this traffic stop?”

First off, a common way to identify a SovCit vehicle in public is their license plate. Some are handmade, some are professionally printed, all are different, but none are legal. They often claim that the vehicle is private property (and therefore not subject to taxation), invoke cases that they think prove that they do not need to license their vehicle, sometimes they identify themselves with a particular group of sovereign citizens such as the Moorish Nation.

If you can’t see the license plate and you’ve gotten as far as speaking to one or watching a video of one, here’s a handy list of common terms, phrases, and cases cited to help you identify a sovereign citizen.

Glossary of Terms & Phrases



Article 4 Free Inhabitant  Based on Article 4 of the Articles of Confederation, which gave citizens of each state the full rights of a local citizen when in another state (a citizen of Maryland, when in Virginia, will have the full rights of a Virginia citizen while in that state) as well as prohibited states from exacting import/export duties on property transferred from state to state within the United States. Not only has it been superseded by the Constitution more than two hundred years ago, but those who believe it is still in effect also seem to misinterpret it entirely by taking it to mean that they can travel through a state without having to obey state and local laws.

consent  You’ll often hear “I do not consent” in regards to a police officer’s actions or requests, whether they be asking for a driver’s license or arresting a suspect. This is based in the belief that obeying the law and the consequences for not doing so are based on consent. See also: joinder.

contract  Interchangeable with joinder (see below).

Corpus Delecti  Latin meaning “body of the crime,” a term meaning that a crime has to have been proved to have occurred before a person can be criminally convicted. In history this has meant that murder could not be proven without a literal body. Confusion over this may have led some to believe that victimless crimes are not at all crimes. Sovereign citizens ask police “where is the Corpus Delecti?” In this context it seems to mean, “where is the victim?” implying that so-called “victimless crimes” such as speeding, reckless driving, or driving without a license are not crimes at all.

engaging in commerce  A common SovCit belief is that common law was secretly replaced by “admiralty law” and by “not engaging in commerce” they are exempt from the laws of the government.

joinder  A more formal, legal-sounding version of “I do not consent” is “I do not wish to joinder with you.” Joinder, a noun, is defined as “the action of bringing parties together” and its use is based on the belief that obeying the law and the consequences for not doing so are voluntary. In this instance “I do not wish to joinder with you” can be translated as “I do not wish to speak/have contact with you.” See also: consent.

public servant  You’ll sometimes hear a SovCit refer to an actual public servant as a public servant, but in their definition it means literal servant: the “public servant” must take the direct orders of the public, including the SovCit. Some will try to issue “lawful orders” to the officer to “stand down.” Of course in reality public servant means that the person serves the public by upholding and enforcing the laws of a democratically elected government.

traveler  You’ll often hear SovCits refer to themselves as travelers or their driving as traveling. A common phrase is “I am a free man, traveling upon the land.” This is connected to their belief that their actions cannot be regulated because they are not “engaging in commerce.”

“My name is _________ of the ____________ Family”  There’s a whole lore around how names are given, how they’re printed on our birth certificates, and how corporations are supposedly set up in our real names. Most strange SovCit naming conventions are in writing, using all caps or including © but this one is verbal and can be heard in traffic stops.

"Do You Understand?  This is a term you’ll hear from a police officer, it’s the reaction from a SovCit that’s relevant. In this case “understand” is meant to mean “stand under,” so when an officer asks “do you understand?” the SovCit will answer no at all times in the belief that the officer is trying to trick them into “standing under” a law they do not agree to. See also: consent.


Relevant Law & Legal Precedents



Articles of Confederation, Article 4  Article 4 of the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, gave citizens of each state the full rights of a local citizen when in another state (a citizen of Maryland, when in Virginia, will have the full rights of a Virginia citizen while in that state) as well as prohibited states from exacting import/export duties on property transferred from state to state within the United States.

The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states in this union, the free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states; and the people of each state shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other state, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restriction shall not extend so far as to prevent the removal of property imported into any state, to any other state, of which the Owner is an inhabitant; provided also that no imposition, duties or restriction shall be laid by any state, on the property of the united states, or either of them.


People v. Battle or People v. Sava  These are two traffic cases from California’s Court of Appeals (1975 and 1987, respectively). In California there are three types of “public offenses:” infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are not considered to be crimes because they do not subject the person committing them to imprisonment, and SovCits will quote these cases in the belief that the idea that "traffic infractions are not crimes" means that the police are not within their rights to arrest someone or even pull them over for a traffic offense.



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