|Cheek v. United States|
Supreme Court of the United States
|Argued October 3, 1990|
Decided January 8, 1991
|(1) A genuine, good faith belief that one is not violating the Federal tax law based on a misunderstanding caused by the complexity of the tax law is a defense to a charge of "willfulness", even though that belief is irrational or unreasonable; (2) a belief that the Federal income tax is unconstitutional is not a misunderstanding caused by the complexity of the tax law, and is not a defense to a charge of "willfulness", even if that belief is genuine and is held in good faith.|
|Chief Justice: William Rehnquist|
Associate Justices: Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter
|Majority by: White|
Joined by: Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy
Concurrence by: Scalia
Dissent by: Blackmun
Joined by: Marshall
Souter took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1 1924 – September 3 2005 was an American lawyer, jurist, and a political figure who served as an Associate Justice Byron Raymond White ( June 8, 1917 &ndash April 15, 2002) won fame both as a football Running back and as an associate justice of Thurgood Marshall ( July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) was an American Jurist and the first African American Harry Andrew Blackmun ( November 12, 1908 &ndash March 4, 1999) was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States John Paul Stevens (born April 20, 1920) is currently the most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra Day O'Connor (born March 26, 1930) is an American Jurist. (born March 11, 1936) is an American Jurist and the second most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Anthony McLeod Kennedy (born July 23, 1936) has been an Associate Justice of the U For the Australian artist see David Henry Souter. David Hackett Souter (ˈsutɚ born September 17, 1939) has been an
|Title 26, § 7201 of the United States Code|
Cheek v. The United States Code ( USC) is a compilation and Codification of the general and permanent federal Law of the United States. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that a tax protester's belief that he was not violating the Federal tax law based on a misunderstanding caused by the complexity of the tax law itself -- if a genuine, good faith, actually held belief -- would be a valid defense to charges of tax evasion, willful failure to timely file income tax returns, and willful failure to timely pay taxes, even though that belief is irrational or unreasonable. Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past Court cases either in special series of books called reporters Year 1991 ( MCMXCI) was a Common year starting on Tuesday (link will display full calendar of the Gregorian Calendar. The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States and leads the federal judiciary. The The Court also ruled that a belief that the tax law is invalid or unconstitutional is not based on a misunderstanding caused by the complexity of the tax law, and is not a defense.
The defendant, John L. A defendant or defender ( Δ in Legal shorthand) is any party who is required to answer the Complaint of a Plaintiff Cheek, became a pilot for American Airlines in 1973. American Airlines Inc (AA is a US -based airline and the world's Largest airline in total passenger miles transported and passenger fleet size Through the tax year 1979, Cheek filed Federal income tax returns. Beginning with the 1980 tax year, Cheek stopped filing Federal income tax returns. He began claiming up to sixty allowances on his Form W-4 withholding statement submitted to his employer.
Cheek was eventually charged with six counts of willfully failing to file Federal income tax returns under The Internal Revenue Code (or IRC; more formally the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as amended) is the main body of domestic statutory Tax law He was also charged with tax evasion under for years 1980, 1981, and 1983. The Internal Revenue Code (or IRC; more formally the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as amended) is the main body of domestic statutory Tax law for 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986.
Between 1982 and 1986, John Cheek was also involved in at least four civil cases challenging the Federal income tax.  Among the arguments raised in those cases were: (1) the argument that he was not a taxpayer within the meaning of the law; (2) the argument that wages are not income; (3) the argument that the Sixteenth Amendment does not authorize an income tax on individuals; and (4) the argument that the Sixteenth Amendment is unenforceable. In Logic, an argument is a Set of one or more Declarative sentences (or "propositions") known as the Premises along The In all four cases, the courts stated that these arguments were erroneous. Cheek also attended two criminal trials of individuals charged with tax crimes. 
At his own criminal trial, John Cheek represented himself. He also testified that around 1978 he had begun attending seminars conducted by a group that believed that the Federal income tax system was unconstitutional. Cheek stated that based on the seminars and his own study, he sincerely believed that the tax laws were being unconstitutionally enforced, and that his actions were lawful. Cheek specifically testified about his own interpretations of the U. S. Constitution, court opinions, common law and other materials. He testified that he had relied on those materials in concluding that he was not required to file tax returns, that he was not required to pay income taxes, and that he could claim refunds of the money withheld from his pay. Cheek also contended that his wages from a private employer (American Airlines) did not constitute income under the internal revenue laws. Cheek argued that he therefore had acted without the "willfulness" that was required for a criminal tax conviction. 
During the jury deliberations, the jury asked the trial judge for a clarification on the law. The judge instructed the jury that an "honest but unreasonable belief is not a defense, and does not negate willfulness. " The trial court also instructed the jury that "[a]dvice or research resulting in the conclusion that wages of a privately employed person are not income or that the tax laws are unconstitutional is not objectively reasonable, and cannot serve as the basis for a good faith misunderstanding of the law defense. "
John Cheek was convicted, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the conviction. Cheek was granted a hearing by the United States Supreme Court. Cheek contended that the trial court had erred by instructing the jury that a misunderstanding of the law had to be objectively reasonable to negate willfulness.
Under U. S. criminal law, the general rule is that ignorance of the law or a mistake of law is not a valid defense to criminal prosecution.  However, there are exceptions to that rule. Some U. S. criminal statutes provide for what are known as "specific intent" crimes, where ignorance of the law may be a valid defense. The criminal tax statutes in the Cheek case are examples of statutes for specific intent crimes, where actual ignorance of the law is a valid defense. 
The two essential holdings of the Supreme Court were:
The Supreme Court distinguished arguments about constitutionality from statutory arguments about the law. The Court, in an opinion by Justice White, ruled that the defendant's belief that the tax laws were unconstitutional was not a defense, no matter how honestly that belief might have been held. Byron Raymond White ( June 8, 1917 &ndash April 15, 2002) won fame both as a football Running back and as an associate justice of To the contrary, Cheek's acknowledgement that his failure to file tax returns was based on a belief about constitutionality was viewed by the Supreme Court as possible evidence of (1) Cheek's awareness of the tax law itself (the Court stating that constitutional arguments reveal the taxpayer's "full knowledge of the provisions at issue and a studied conclusion, however wrong, that those provisions are invalid and unenforceable",) and (2) of the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty imposed by the tax law.
However, John Cheek's statutory argument -- his asserted belief that his wages were not income under the statute (the Internal Revenue Code itself) -- was ruled by the Supreme Court to be a possible ground for a valid defense even though that belief was not objectively reasonable, provided that the belief was actually held in good faith. The Supreme Court ruled that by instructing the jury that the defendant's statutory argument had to be based on a belief that was "objectively reasonable," the trial judge had erroneously transformed what should have been treated as a factual issue (for the jury to decide) into a legal issue. The Supreme Court stated that whether the defendant acted willfully is a factual issue to be determined by the jury, and that a valid defense of lack of willfulness could be found even though the defendant's belief is not "objectively reasonable. " The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for a retrial.
Justices Harry Blackmun and Thurgood Marshall agreed with the Court's ruling that a belief that the Federal income tax is unconstitutional is not a defense to a charge of willfulness. These two justices complained, however, about the Court's ruling that a genuine, good faith belief based on a misunderstanding of the Internal Revenue Code is a valid defense. In dissent, Justice Blackmun wrote:
Some tax protesters have cited this case for the argument that it is possible to avoid paying taxes without punishment by using the kind of defense raised by Cheek about a good faith misunderstanding of the tax law itself. The Cheek defense is available, however, only in a criminal trial, and not as a method to avoid the payment of tax.
In the case of John Cheek:
Further, the case was remanded for a re-trial. In the re-trial, the jury rejected Mr. Cheek's argument that he actually "believed" that wages were not taxable. He was again convicted. The second conviction was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court let that decision stand by denying John Cheek's petition for a writ of certiorari. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is a federal court with Appellate jurisdiction over the courts in the following districts John L. Cheek was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, and was released from prison in December of 1992.