NewsDarrell Brooks Trial


Judge rules Brooks is unable to use 'sovereign citizen' defense at trial

A sovereign citizen is someone who believes the laws don’t apply to them. A local civil rights attorney says it’s an illegitimate defense.
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Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-06 19:19:25-04

WAUKESHA, Wis. — The Waukesha Christmas parade attack suspect, Darrell Brooks, claims he’s a “sovereign citizen”. The judge presiding over Brooks’ homicide trial ruled Thursday he won’t be able to use that as a defense because it doesn’t have merit.

A sovereign citizen is someone who believes they are not under the jurisdiction of any sort of government and therefore thinks the laws don’t apply to them. A local civil rights attorney says it’s an illegitimate defense.

Among Brooks’ many outbursts at trial, he suggests being a sovereign citizen means he’s immune to the rules of the court and the laws in Wisconsin.

"From a legal standpoint, it means nothing because it's not a defense at all,” said civil rights attorney William Sulton.


Sulton says the concept isn’t recognized as a legal defense in any courtroom in the United States.

"It's a theory that's been rejected for decades and the court properly rejected it here,” he said.

Despite the unusual strategy’s winless record in criminal trials, Sulton says the defense argument has gained steam and has become more common over the last decade.

“There was a case of some notoriety about seven, eight years ago with an individual who put false liens on some judges in Milwaukee and Waukesha County,” Sulton recalled. “His case ended up being moved to Dane County and he did pursue a sovereign citizenship defense. He was convicted."

Dr. Christine Sarteschi is a professor at Chatham University who’s closely monitoring the Brooks trial from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“A lot of people have never seen a sovereign citizen or heard of the defense,” she said. “I’ve been tracking them for a number of years now, I wrote a book on them, I have a website."

Dr. Sarteschi said the sovereign citizen movement has been fueled by falsehoods on social media and the broader internet.

"People always ask me, ‘Why would anyone try this when they never work?’, but the thing is I don't think the people who are trying them know it doesn't work, or they believe, 'hey, if I just use my strategy, this little difference here, it will work this time,’” she said.

Not only does Dr. Sarteschi say the defense is ineffective in the courtroom, she says sovereign citizen extremism poses a threat to law enforcement.

“Add in somebody who comes in with these illegitimate ideas that have no basis in law, but they really believe them so they then fight with the officer and this has lead to sovereigns being shot at traffic stops and including officers being shot,” she said.

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