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Criminal Law Keyed to Lee
Cheek v. United States
Citation:498 U.S. 192, 111 S. Ct. 604, 112 L.Ed.2d 617 (1991)
Cheek was a pilot for American Airlines since 1973. He filed federal tax returns through 1979, but failed to do so after that year. His income during this period far exceeded the minimum necessary to trigger the statutory filing requirement. He was charged with several counts of “willfully” attempting to evade taxes and “willfully” failing to file tax returns.
Cheek admitted that he did not filed taxes. However, he asserted that he believed that he did not owe taxes. He testified that he followed the advice of a group that believes the federal tax system is unconstitutional. His defense was that, based on the indoctrination he received from this group and his own research, he sincerely believed that his wages were not income and that the tax laws were being unconstitutionally enforced and thus he did not have to follow them.
At trial, the judge instructed the jury that an honest but unreasonable belief is not a defense and does not negate the “willfulness” of his actions. Cheek was convicted, and appealed the jury instruction. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed.
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