Anti-government extremist who tried to bill judge for $1M loses gun appeal
An anti-government felon who once tried to bill a judge and a police officer each for $1 million has lost yet another appeal of an illegal gun conviction.
Paul J. Burnette, a self-identified follower of the extremist sovereign citizens movement, appealed after he pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of an assault rifle and was sentenced to three years with no parole ineligibility.
Burnette is among many recent bizarre legal cases involving adherents of a sometimes violent, sometimes racist movement who don't believe they should pay taxes or follow laws.
Burnette’s possession of a handgun had violated his parole from a 2011 aggravated assault case that stemmed from an incident at a police station after he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.
The judge in that earlier case ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation. The psychologist found that “he was “comfortable challenging the rules and regulations of society and that there was objective evidence suggesting the presence of a severe mental illness or thought disorder,” according to court summary of the findings.
In appealing the weapon conviction, Burnette argued that police did not have probable cause to obtain a search warrant. But an appellate court panel on Friday shot him down.
Burnette has also tried suing a judge and prosecutors in Middlesex County, as well as his own defense attorney.
In a rambling 2014 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of New Jersey, Burnette claimed his rights were being violated because authorities insisted on spelling his name using all capital letters instead of using the naming convention favored by sovereign citizens — "Paul-joseph:Burnette."
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in an eight-page opinion explaining why he had no case.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks dangerous hate groups, says adherents of the sovereign citizen movement are known for their "bizarre use of language and Byzantine belief system.”
They believe they have secret Treasury accounts that they can use to pay off their tax debts or utility bills. They believe that the accounts are set up by the government at birth using the child’s "corporate shell" name and that the accounts contain millions of dollars.
In writing their names, they use colons and hyphens to signify “a flesh-and-blood person” as opposed to a “corporate shell of a person,” which would be identified in all-capital letters. Only the corporate shell of the person is subject to taxes and laws of the state, they believe.
The state Department of Homeland Security lists sovereign citizens as a "moderate threat" to pubic safety, citing their mostly nonviolent use of the courts and liens to wage harassment campaigns.
But not all sovereign citizens are harmless.
Last March, a sovereign citizen in a New Jersey prison filed $120 million in fraudulent liens against public officials.
Last June, former state resident Erick Shute was charged with killing three in West Virginia over a property dispute. His criminal record includes charges of attacking police in New Jersey.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.