In a case with major implications for free speech and due process, an appeal by Doreen Hendrickson, a mother jailed last year on "contempt of court" charges for refusing a federal court order to perjure herself, was officially denied.
Advertisement - story continues below
The court claimed that it did not have to rule on the illegality or unconstitutionality of the court order that was supposedly violated, or on whether it was appropriate for the trial court to instruct the jury not to consider the legality of the demands.
If the ruling is allowed to stand, observers and legal experts warned of potentially devastating consequences to the rule of law, due process of law, judicial integrity, freedom of speech, and all of Americans' constitutionally protected rights.
Basically, the government could force anyone to say anything, under oath, critics of the ruling observed.
The attorney representing Hendrickson, Mark Cedrone, even compared the government's efforts to force his client to say what the government wants to Islamic Shariah law demanding the affirmation of Allah.
The panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that upheld the lower-court ruling did not cite Islamic law.
Advertisement - story continues below
Instead, it relied on an obscure legal theory to justify its decision to avoid ruling on what experts say are the key issues.
Developed by the courts themselves to justify judicial power, the rarely used doctrine is known as "collateral bar."
In essence, the doctrine purports to allow court orders to stand and is aimed at ensuring that courts' effective authority is upheld.
However, the Supreme Court has ruled that transparently invalid orders are not shielded from review by the collateral bar doctrine, something the family and its supporters say the appellate court refused to recognize.
Nonetheless, reliance on that doctrine is how the three-judge panel, in ruling to uphold Hendrickson's conviction for contempt, was able to side-step the real issue in the case: whether violating a court order to commit perjury, or any other crime, in defiance of the most well-established constitutional protections, is a valid reason to jail somebody.
Advertisement - story continues below
The lower court claimed that, "it is not a defense to the crime of contempt that the court order that the defendant is accused of violating was unlawful or unconstitutional."
The defense was hoping to see that order overturned.
Indeed, critics of the ruling have been quick to point out that the actual U.S. statute defining criminal contempt, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 401(3), makes clear that it only applies to lawful orders. It refers to "disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command." (emphasis added)
Advertisement - story continues below
With its controversial ruling, though, the appellate court panel upheld the unprecedented doctrine that courts can essentially issue any lawless or even unconstitutional order, and expect it to be obeyed without question, regardless of its validity.
Experts and observers warned of potentially far-reaching consequences for all Americans if the new doctrine is allowed to stand.
Hendrickson speaks from prison
In an exclusive statement provided to WND from federal prison, Hendrickson, a mother of two, slammed the justice system and highlighted the implications of allowing the rulings to stand.
Advertisement - story continues below
"Not only I, but the Founders as well, have been betrayed by both the Department of Justice and the courts," she said. "Natural rights, such as those of free thoughts and words, are sacred and inviolable, but these two branches of our government have trampled on my natural rights in nefarious pursuit of financial and political goals."
While Hendrickson is scheduled for release in less than six months, if she continues refusing to commit perjury as demanded by the court order, she will be ordered back to prison.
But she has not lost hope. "While the worst of the punishment imposed on me for having the audacity to exercise my rights is nearing its end, it's important to me to continue efforts to have this conviction overturned," she explained.
"Honestly, at this point in my life, I couldn't care less about having the tag 'felon'," she added. "But I'm frightened for my kids and, by extension, the rest of America."
"When I was surrounded by assault rifles, arrested and taken away in June 2013, I never in a million years would have thought a federal judge would allow a trial to proceed on a contempt charge that was brought simply as a result of me exercising my First Amendment right to free speech," Hendrickson continued. "But that's just what happened.
"First, me," she said. "Next, who?" Possibly you, she warned.
"Thus far, the DoJ attorneys, the District Court and the 6th Circuit appeal panel have defied innumerable Supreme Court rulings that the right to free speech shall not be abridged," Hendrickson continued, referring to the countless times the Supreme Court has upheld the First Amendment-protected right to speak, or not speak, freely.
"The en banc 6th Circuit has the opportunity to correct the lower courts," she concluded. "For all our sakes, I hope they don't fail to take it."
Commit perjury, or go to jail
As WND reported in February, the Hendrickson case surrounds the 2002 and 2003 tax returns filed by Hendrickson and her husband.
Five years later, a federal court and the federal government ordered Hendrickson to sign a revised form under penalty of perjury — a form that she believed to be inaccurate.
Because signing something one believes to be false under oath is a serious crime, the mother initially refused to comply.
Eventually, she obeyed the order to avoid punishment, but noted that the sworn statement was being compelled by authorities and was made under duress.
Because of that decision, she has been sitting behind bars for "contempt of court" for over a year.
Hendrickson was never even accused by the government of tax evasion or filing false tax returns, much less convicted of such crimes by a jury.
Her sole "crime" was to refuse to sign, under penalty of perjury, a declaration that she believed to be untrue, which would have itself been a serious criminal act punishable by law.
Both Hendrickson and her husband, Peter, however, along with their supporters across America, believe that the real reason the courts and the federal government have gone to such lengths in this case is a book he wrote.
Basically, they argue that the government hopes to suppress arguments made by Mr. Hendrickson in his book "Cracking the Code – The Fascinating Truth About Taxation In America."
WND has not read the book or independently verified its arguments, but it reportedly argues that the federal government has been overcharging most Americans on their taxes using deceptive practices.
The federal government sought to suppress the book, unsuccessfully, in court.
When that failed, the Hendrickson family and its supporters argue, authorities decided to go after the family and attempt to force Mrs. Hendrickson to swear falsely under oath that she believes what the government says.
Critics have slammed the proceedings as a sham.
Some observers have even called for criminal charges against those involved in the legal assault.
Brian Wright, a longtime liberty activist who attended Hendrickson's original trial, was so moved by the "travesty" he observed in the trial that he decided to write a book, "The Motor City Witchcraft Trial(s)," outlining alleged abuses behind the case.
He told WND that all of the officials involved in the "crime of suborning Doreen's perjury" should be indicted, convicted and imprisoned for their "heinous act of violence."
Implications for free speech and due process
The family and its growing numbers of supporters across America, more than a dozen of whom have contacted WND about the case, warned that if the government can compel speech and perjury in the Hendrickson case, it can do it in any case.
The rule of law, as well as key constitutionally protected rights enshrined in the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments, are all under threat.
That should terrify everyone, observers said.
Journalist and documentary maker Shane Trejo was so moved by what he perceived as the injustice in the case that he created a video to showcase it and spread awareness.
"Seeing the Soviet-style show trial first hand was a real eye opener for me," Trejo told WND. "It showed that these judges and prosecutors will do anything to protect their federal gravy train — even if it means destroying the life of an innocent woman."
"The rule of law is officially dead in what was formerly the land of the free," he added.
Pete Hendrickson's "Lost Horizons" newsletter, which has kept supporters of the family updated on the case, also outlined some of the implications.
"If the state gets away with dictating Doreen's testimony in this case, it will soon be dictating the testimony and 'admissions' of anyone it chooses to target for property-seizure, compelled waiver of rights or simple punishment," the report said, urging people to take action.
"If the damning 'testimony' is not made, trial for 'contempt' follows, and the unlawfulness of the order will be off the table for the jury, just as in Doreen's trials," it continued. "The only thing that will matter is that the false testimony was not made as commanded."
"This ploy will be used to control testimony about others, or concerning matters of public policy, also," the newsletter argued. "And the public will never know."
The report also noted that authorities wanted to cover up even the fact that they had compelled Doreen Hendrickson to perjure herself, by refusing to allow her to note that the statements were made under duress.
"One feature of Doreen's case was that she was ordered not only to swear she believes what she does not, but to conceal the fact that what she said was not her own testimony, and that she was forced to say it," the newsletter added.
It concluded: "The potential for evil here is unprecedented."
Husband speaks out on targeting
In a recent interview with WND, Pete Hendrickson, Doreen's husband, outlined what he said were some of the implications of allowing the rulings to stand.
Among other key concerns, Pete Hendrickson said the legal foundation has now been established for the government to compel anyone and everyone to say under oath what the government wants them to say in court – even in contests with the government.
"No tyrant could hope for a better tool than what is being made judicial precedent in Cincinnati in the case of United States v. Doreen Hendrickson," he told WND. "The case should be re-titled United States v. America."
The decision by the appellate panel "pretends that some arcane judicial doctrine [collateral bar] legitimizes its turning a blind eye to the fact that what's being done to my wife by the lower courts and the DOJ is illegal," he continued.
"The panel pretends that this doctrine somehow works to allow enforcement of court orders which are expressly forbidden by the Constitution," Pete Hendrickson said. "This is a transparently false."
Not only are the orders given to Doreen Hendrickson simply "not authorized." "They are specifically prohibited," he said, noting that the government cannot command people to say and swear to believe what it wishes.
Such orders "cannot be lawfully made, not even by some 'interpretation' or 'construction' of the Constitution," Hendrickson said, citing the First Amendment and countless Supreme Court rulings.
In short, he argued that the "corrupt" appellate panel started with the knowledge that the orders are illegal, and it does not even try to excuse them or argue that they could be anything but illegal.
"But rather than do its duty in light of that knowledge, and declare the orders void and have Doreen instantly released, the panel struggles to construct a rationale for its refusal to do so," he said, arguing that the goal was to preserve his wife's conviction "at all costs."
Pete Hendrickson said the reasons for the illegal orders and the effort to let the conviction stand are obvious.
The government hopes, he argued, that the "abuse" of his wife will deter others from investigating what he called the "misapplication of the income tax over the past 75 years" by the a "swollen and arrogant Leviathan state."
He also said that the "vile crime" was committed by the government even while it admits the accuracy of his arguments by routinely approving tax refunds to those who have studied his work. Countless people have posted pictures of their successful filings and refunds on the Internet, he and his supporters point out.
"But even the tax issue and the effort to hide information from the American people that motivates this judicial corruption pales in the face of the limitless mischief to which this panel decision opens the door," Pete Hendrickson said. "While the tax issue is huge, the proposition that people can be forced to make testimonial declarations dictated by the government --and even in legal contests with the government itself – should be scaring the pants off every person in the country."
Pointing to the Founders, he highlighted the fact that they enshrined the prohibition on infringements against freedom of speech in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution — something required before the states even agreed to ratify it.
"Anyone with even a rudimentary imagination can readily grasp how this power will be used to circumvent every right and utterly destroy all remaining limits on state power," he said.
"And this will be accomplished without dissent," Pete Hendrickson concluded. "Dissenters will be ordered to declare the opposite of what they really believe, just as was Doreen, or thrown into prison for refusing to do so, just as was Doreen."
The implications for freedom are enormous.
Shariah-style forced speech?
Doreen Hendrickson's attorney was surprised that the appeals court panel upheld the lower court's decision to punish a person for refusing to commit perjury in the face of a judicial order.
"I can't help but believe that Doreen Hendrickson is being penalized for the content of her speech," Cedrone, the defense lawyer, told WND.
"The matter here is simple," he said. "Mrs. Hendrickson has been punished simply for refusing to say that which she indisputably disbelieves."
"The court of appeals has affirmed her conviction for politely disobeying an order requiring her to state under oath that her earnings are subject to the income tax, a proposition with which she disagrees," Cedrone continued.
"In certain countries where Shariah law controls, if one disavows Allah as god, they are subject to death," he said. "In the United States if one refuses to agree and declare under oath that all earnings are subject to the income tax, they go to jail."
"One might suggest the comparison is melodramatic, but is it really?"
The entire case, he said, "represents a shameful abuse of public authority."
Options going forward
While Doreen Hendrickson is set to be released on September 4 if all goes according to plan, that is not the end of the story.
As a condition of her supervised post-incarceration release, authorities are still purporting to require that she commit perjury by claiming under oath to believe something she does not in fact believe.
The alternative, though, is being locked up again. For how long remains unclear, though it would be at least another 10 months.
With the March 11 decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to deny Hendrickson's appeal, she is running out of options on the case.
One avenue being pursued is to have the full appeals court agree to rehear the case, en banc, and overrule the panel and the lower court.
A motion has already been filed requesting a re-hearing by the entire appellate court.
So far, it is not clear whether the full court will take on the case and overrule a panel of its own judges, but it is extremely rare for that to happen.
Another option, if that fails, could be the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the high court only agrees to hear a tiny fraction of the appeals that reach it, making it an exceedingly difficult and expensive alternative.
The family and its supporters, meanwhile, are working to raise public awareness about what they say is a grave injustice, in hopes of eventually securing justice somehow.