Do I Have to File My Tax Return?
By Steven A. Leahy
Many of my clients are non-filers. Meaning, they haven’t filed a tax return for some years. Non-filers are not the same as tax protesters. Tax protesters do not file tax returns under the mistaken belief that there is not a legal obligation to file a tax return. Many do not understand that failure to file a tax return is a crime, punishable by up to one year in prison for each unfiled return. Other, more serious felony counts may also be charged – tax evasion and tax fraud.
Non-filers are not often prosecuted for failure to file. Tax protesters are routinely prosecuted for failure to file, because of the willful nature of their non-filing. There are at least eight different arguments tax protesters cite as reasons filing a tax return is not required.
1. There is no law requiring you to pay federal income taxes;
2. The Internal Revenue Code is not law;
3. Income tax is voluntary;
4. Wages are not income;
5. First Amendment;
6. Fifth Amendment;
7. Thirteenth Amendment, and;
8. The Sixteenth Amendment.
These eight arguments can be divided into two basic categories – Interpretative arguments and Constitutional arguments. Interpretative agreements relied on by tax protesters interpret the IRS Code, court opinions and the Constitution very narrowly. For example, tax protestors contend that there is nothing in the Code that makes ordinary citizens “liable” for income taxes. It is true, the word “liable” is not used in the IRS Code to describe citizens’ obligations. But the IRS Code does use many other words that mean the same thing – “obligation,” “impose,” “shall pay,” etc.
Another Interpretive argument is that the IRS Code refers to “taxpayers” having an obligation to file tax returns and pay taxes. Tax protesters argue, if a person does not file tax returns or pay taxes, they are not a “taxpayer” and therefore not required to pay taxes. There are many other examples of these interpretative arguments; all have been dismissed as “frivolous” by Courts across the country.
The second category points to Constitutional problems as reasons why tax returns are not mandatory for US Citizens. First Amendment arguments citing religious objections, Fifth Amendment arguments complaining of self-incrimination, Thirteenth Amendment objections to taxes making slaves of citizens, Sixteenth Amendment validity arguments, all have been described as “frivolous” by courts. The Sixteenth Amendment argument is the most common argument. Tax protestors point to variations of the amendment approved by different states, punctuation differences, spelling differences, formatting differences, etc. The time to argue ratification has long since past. ALL Courts recognize the validity of the Sixteenth Amendment.
One very famous case of a tax protester refusing to file tax returns and pay taxes involved Wesley Snipes, a movie actor. Mr. Snipes was recently released from a three year misdemeanor prison term, after being acquitted of felony conspiracy and tax fraud charges and three additional counts of failure to file. He bought into many of the tax protester arguments listed here, and had a team of lawyers working to convince the courts of his position. While he avoided the more serious felony charges, the Court sentenced him to the maximum term available under the misdemeanor statute.
Some of these arguments are interesting. But understand, once charged, a judge will not entertain these arguments in any serious way – and you very well may end up in prison like Wesley Snipes.
So, if you have unfiled returns, you should work with a local law firm that will work to get your late returns filed and avoid jail. You should give me a call – Opem Tax Resolutions & The Law Office of Steven A. Leahy, PC (312) 664-6649. Call NOW to set up your FREE Consultation.