United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING AFFIRMATIVE
S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court pursuant to Mr.
Hutson's oral request for leave to present evidence (and
receive instructions consistent with) an affirmative defense
under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
(“RFRA”),  42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et. seq.
Mr. Hutson filed a Trial Memorandum (# 119)
setting forth certain aspects of his request and the
Government filed a responsive Trial Memorandum (#
137). On January 8, 2018, the Court heard lengthy
argument from counsel, testimony from Mr. Hutson, and
received documentary evidence. At the conclusion of that
hearing, the Court orally denied Mr. Hutson's motion.
This Opinion elaborates on the reasons for that denial.
background, the Court recites some of the pertinent evidence
here, and elaborates as necessary in its analysis.
Hutson is charged with five counts of making false claims
against the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
287, six counts of creating false financial instruments in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 514(a)(1), and three counts of
bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344.
Hutson was a member of the Colorado Free State
Republic. That entity is affiliated with a national
entity called the Republic for the United States of America.
More generally, Mr. Hutson describes himself as a
“Sovereign Citizen.” As a Sovereign Citizen and
member of the aforementioned groups, Mr. Hutson believes that
all persons are “endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights, ” as stated in the Declaration of
Independence. He believes that the Creator has set forth
certain “laws of nature” that must be obeyed by
the people. These precise laws are unclear, but they appear
to be related to the inalienable rights described in the
Declaration of Independence: essentially, the ability to
freely enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness.” The people, in turn, create government to
regulate their affairs, although the government is answerable
to the people and can never supersede the Creator's
natural law. Mr. Hutson believes that the current form of
American government is no longer responsive to the
people's needs and desires, and is therefore corrupt.
Therefore, he believes that he has an obligation to oppose
that government and to help others to do so, so that people
can “live without government rule.”
Citizens observe certain rituals. Mr. Hutson's testimony
and argument focuses on the ritual entitled
“redemption.” He explains that at the time of
each citizen's birth, the government “pledge[s] the
lifetime earning capacity of each of its citizens to foreign
investors” and simultaneously creates a bank account
that “holds cash collateral for this
pledge.” (Later, at trial, Mr. Hutson referred to
this account as his “birth certificate fund, ”
and the Court will adopt this label for purposes of this
opinion.) Normally, the birth certificate fund is only made
available to an artificial, government-created
“strawman” that bears the same name as the
citizen. To obtain access to the birth certificate
fund, the citizen must “redeem” the money, by
disclaiming or extinguishing the existence of the strawman.
The redemption ritual is performed by the citizen mailing
certain forms, documents -- Mr. Hutson testified that he
“turned in my Social Security card, . . . turned in my
birth certificate” -- and a blank check drawn on the
citizen's closed personal checking account, to various
government agencies. The mailing appears to complete the
ritual, as Mr. Hutson testified that he expected no response
from the government officials. He explained that he
understood that, through their silence, the government
manifested its acceptance of his redemption.
Hutson explained that, once redemption was completed, the
citizen acquired the status of a “secured party
creditor.” A secured party creditor could then draw
upon the birth certificate fund by issuing checks - typically
drawn on the citizen's closed personal checking account
-- with the routing and account numbers altered by hand. The
secured party creditor writes in the routing number of the
Federal Reserve Bank branch where the citizen was born, and
replaces the printed account number with his Social Security
number. Mr. Hutson explained that the various
checks and claims would thereafter be paid by the government
from funds in the citizen's birth certificate account. As
Mr. Hutson explained “the paperwork that was sent in
was supposed to open up the account that the Treasury has
[and] every EFT that was sent in, every promissory note that
was sent in, would have been and should have been taken care
of by the U.S. Treasury.” Mr. Hutson testified that he
completed the redemption ritual and became a secured party
creditor in September or October 2011.
beliefs set the stage for the charged conduct in this case.
Mr. Hutson is accused of issuing false checks to various
entities. Mr. Hutson is also accused of sending invoices or
payment requests to the U.S.D.A., requesting that they remit
funds to, among others, a motorcycle dealership, to pay for
purchases Mr. Hutson wishes to make. These requests were also
accompanied by modified checks drawn on Mr. Hutson's
closed personal checking account, made payable to the United
States of America.
Hutson testified briefly about his beliefs concerning an
afterlife. He stated that, upon his death, he hopes that
“go see my Creator and be taken in.” His
referenced the notion of “divine providence, ” as
that term is used in the closing paragraph of the Declaration
of Independence,  testifying that he understands it to mean
that “as long as we're doing so in a nonviolent
manner, we will go to our Creator with no worries.” Mr.
Hutson states that the Republic of the United States is
“a religion, ” because “every meeting that
has taken place, we ask for guidance from God in a prayer
before the meeting starts. We pledge our allegiance to God
and the United States.” Mr. Hutson believes that
whether the meeting is being held in a “$10 million
building” or in a park, “God is going to be
present there.” As discussed herein, however, the
Republic of the United States' own document expressly
states that it is “not a religion.”
Hutson requests that he be permitted to admit evidence, to
receive jury instructions on, and to include in the verdict
form certain interrogatories regarding an affirmative defense
under RFRA. Courts have recognized RFRA as creating an
affirmative defense that the accused can raise in a criminal
prosecution. U.S. v. Quaintance, 608 F.3d 717, 719
(10th Cir. 2010); U.S. v. Christie, 825
F.3d 1048, 1055 (9th Cir. 2016).
provides that the Government is generally prohibited from
burdening a person's exercise of religion, even by
operation of a law of general applicability. 42 U.S.C. §
2000bb-1(a). A person may assert this provision of RFRA as a
defense in a criminal proceeding. 42 U.S.C. §
2000bb-1(c). If a person asserts that enforcement of a
criminal statute has burdened his religious exercise, the
statute can only be enforced if: (i) it is in furtherance of
a compelling governmental interest, and (ii) that the statute
is the least-restrictive means of furthering that interest.
42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(b).
burden of going forward is on the criminal defendant, who
must demonstrate that: (i) he has a sincerely-held religious
belief, and (ii) that his belief or practice is substantially
burdened by the enforcement of the criminal statutes he is
charged with violating. Quaintance, 608 F.3d at
first question is whether the defendant holds a belief that
is religious in nature. The Supreme Court clearly
distinguishes between beliefs that are religious in nature
and those that are based on “purely secular
considerations.” Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S.
205, 216 (1972). Beyond acknowledging this distinction, the
Supreme Court has offered no meaningful guidance, largely
observing simply that the matter presents “a most
delicate question.” Id. The 10th
Circuit has provided greater guidance, identifying five
primary factors and numerous sub-factors that help determine
whether beliefs are religious in nature. U.S. v.
Meyers, 95 F.3d 1475, 1483 (10thCir.
1996). The major factors are: (i) “ultimate
ideas, ” in that the beliefs address “existential
matters, such as man's sense of being; teleological
matters, such as man's purpose in life; and cosmological
matters, such as man's place in the universe”; (ii)
“metaphysical beliefs, ” that “address a
reality which transcends the physical and
immediately-apparent world”; (iii) a moral or ethical
system that “describe certain acts in normative terms,
such as “right and wrong, ” “good and evil,
” or “just and unjust”; (iv)
comprehensiveness, in that the beliefs offer “an
overreaching array of beliefs that coalesce to provide the
believer with answers to many, if not most, of the problems
and concerns that confront humans, ” rather than being
beliefs “confined to one question or a ...