Fools Convicted

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Conviction affirmed, technically, but I liked the sound of this headline better.

Kurt Johnson and Dale Heineman were accused of scamming homeowners by promising to get rid of their mortgage debt for a fee.  They did get rid of it, if by "get rid of" you mean "filed bogus documents supposedly showing the mortgage was invalid."  The homeowners would then refinance, and our heroes would take a significant portion of the proceeds of the new loan.  They pocketed over $3 million, and their clients ended up in default.

At trial, they insisted on representing themselves, and the judge was unable to talk them out of it despite "practically begging" them to get a lawyer.  They refused, because, apparently, they had a plan.

According to the court, the two set out to sabotage their own case, filing "meaningless and nonsensical documents," wearing prison garb in front of the jury, and making bizarre comments such as asking the jury to "enter a guilty plea for us."  The defendants also advanced a "peculiar theory" that "they were 'sentient human beings' distinct from the abstract titles 'Defendants KURT F. JOHNSON AND DALE SCOTT HEINEMAN' as they were referred to in the indictment and court documents."  That sounds a lot like the thoroughly dumb "personal sovereignty" arguments that we have seen before, and although you have to wonder whether people making these arguments are not entirely in touch with reality, the trial judge had these guys were evaluated by a doctor who found neither one was suffering from a mental disorder.  But on appeal – after an unsurprising conviction – they argued that the district court should not have let them represent themselves, as they had demanded, because "their own courtroom behavior rendered their trial unfair."

The court:

The record clearly shows that the defendants are fools, but that is not the same as being incompetent. . . . [T]hey had the right to represent themselves and go down in flames if they wished, a right the district court was required to respect.

Convictions affirmed.  The two sentient human beings will now have their personal sovereignty infringed for the next 21 and 25 years respectively.

Link: San Francisco Chronicle
Link: United States v. Johnson, No. 08-10147 (9th Cir. July 6, 2010)