'Moorish-American' sentenced to 6 years (March 26, 2011)
A broken tag light snowballed into eight days of jail for a Conyers man who tried to use "sovereign citizen" tactics and arguments, including walking out of his own trial before jury selection.
Erastus Omolo Abong, 31, of Conyers was pulled over on Sigman Road last January by Rockdale County Sheriff's Office deputies for a broken tag light. During the incident, Abong refused to get out of the car and refused to show a driver's license. He was eventually charged with obstruction, driving without a valid license, and broken tag light.
The charges led to a jury trial last week in Rockdale County State Court. However, as jury selection was about to begin, Abong reportedly asked State Court Judge Nancy Bills if he could leave. She told him he could but that if he did, she would issue a bench warrant for his arrest.
Abong walked out. He came back the next day to the courthouse to have documents notarized in Rockdale's Probate Court and was taken into custody.
Judge Bills attempted to hold a trial again Monday, Feb. 24. Abong evaded answering questions, such as whether he waived his right to an attorney and wanted to represent himself or wanted a public defender.
"I'm not here to represent myself. I am here as myself," said Abong. He continued to make statements for about 25 minutes questioning the jurisdiction of the court, the legitimacy of the judge and court and state, claiming he was kidnapped when he was arrested. "You are denying my right to be heard," said Abong.
"The opportunity to be heard doesn't mean you can spout off anything you want to say," said Bills. "The opportunity to be heard means you get a fair trial and a lawyer to defend yourself. That was your constitutional right to have a trial and you voluntarily abandoned that."
"I am trying to preserve your rights and make sure you have a fair trial," continued Bills. Eventually, Abong was removed from the courtroom and placed in the courthouse holding cell. Public defender Elizabeth Simpson was appointed to represent Abong; an action federal courts have upheld in situations when a defendant refuses to participate in court procedings, said Bills.
The jury found Abong guilty of all three counts and Bills sentenced him to the eight days already served in jail.
"Sovereign citizen" followers do not recognize existing governments and law enforcement agencies and claim that laws do not apply to them, often filing fraudulent paperwork in court systems.
The numbers of people that adhere to "sovereign citizen" type beliefs and tactics are hard to estimate. A rough estimate by the Southern Poverty Law Center ranges from 100,000 to 300,000 in the United States.
More information is available at http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/ideology/sovereign-citizens-movement