United States v. Johnson, No. 19-2718 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Johnson, a “sovereign citizen,” participated in a bogus mortgage-elimination scheme. Charged with mail fraud, Johnson represented himself at a month-long jury trial, presenting nonsensical defenses. Johnson was capable of basic trial tasks. The Ninth Circuit affirmed his conviction, stating that Johnson was a “fool,” but not incompetent.
While serving his 300-month sentence, Johnson filed false bankruptcy petitions. Charged with bankruptcy fraud, Johnson did not have counsel at his initial appearance and repeatedly insisted that he was not the defendant. The magistrate asked Johnson several questions to confirm his decision to proceed pro se. Johnson stated that his competency to represent himself had “already been established and affirmed on appeal.” The magistrate “strongly urge[d]” him to accept counsel but ultimately found that Johnson had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel. Johnson was again questioned and declined counsel during the final pretrial conference, Before and at trial, Johnson performed the necessary functions. Johnson’s arguments were gibberish, characterized by statements like, “the United States is a figment of our imagination.” Johnson accepted counsel for sentencing. The court applied a downward variance and sentenced Johnson, age 55, to 216 months’ imprisonment, consecutive to his current sentence.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s colloquy with Johnson was lacking, but Johnson’s waiver of counsel was valid. Johnson’s history and his separate, more thorough colloquy with the magistrate indicate that Johnson’s decision to forgo counsel was not uninformed. The court also rejected Johnson’s challenge to the sentencing explanation.