Friday, April 20, 2012

Georgia Passes Tougher Bogus Lien Law

A new measure came into force in Georgia this week, when Governor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 997, making it a felony to file bogus liens against public officials and law enforcement officers. The act amends the Georgia code to create a new crime, that of making false lien statements against public officers or public employees, and provides a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

The bill had originally been sponsored by a group of Republican state representatives and received strong bipartisan support in both the Georgia House and Senate. The aim of the bill was to help counter the growing problems caused by the sovereign citizen movement, an extreme right-wing anti-government movement whose adherents believe that current governments are illegitimate and have no authority over them. Though the movement has existed since the 1970s, in the past few years it has experienced a surprising resurgence, including a growth of violent and criminal activity.

Portion of document filed by Robert Eugene Stephens
attempting to copyright his own name,
a common sovereign citizen tactic

Though the sovereign citizen movement has a strong association with violence, it has an even stronger association with what has come to be called “paper terrorism”—the use of bogus legal filings or documents or the misuse of actual ones in order to harass, intimidate, or retaliate against perceived enemies.

For 30 years, bogus liens have been one of the most popular paper terrorism tactics, often used to harass police officers, prosecutors, officials, and judges with whom sovereign citizens come into contact. To give one recent Georgia example, in October 2011 Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents arrested sovereign citizen Robert Eugene Stephens of Mineral Bluff on 12 criminal counts related to a series of bogus liens Stephens allegedly filed against a variety of local and state officials, including a county clerk, a local judge and her secretary, the county tax commissioner, and even the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives (which probably didn’t hurt the chance the subsequent law had of passing).

A number of states still don’t have bogus lien laws on their books, while the laws of other states make the crime only a misdemeanor and some states with bogus lien laws have been lax in enforcing them. The result has been a flood of bogus liens across the entire country in the past several years.

The Georgia law could still be strengthened further, as it does not protect private citizens and businesses, who also can be the victim of bogus liens filed by sovereign citizens.

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