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Tax Law

Tenth Circuit Opinion on Mens Rea for Tax Obstruction - What Does Unlawful Mean? (7212(a))

In United States v. Williamson, [enhanced version available to subscribers], ___ F.3d ___, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 4934 (10th Cir. 2014), here, the Tenth Circuit rejected the taxpayer's argument that the jury should have been instructed on the meaning of "unlawful" meant in a standard form of tax obstruction definition of the "corruptly" element of the crime. See Section 7212(a), here. The defendant wanted an instruction that was or very close to the standard Cheek instruction -- intentional violation of a known legal duty -- for the willfulness element of most tax crimes, but not an express element of the crime of tax obstruction. I have argued that the tax obstruction crimes (principally Section 7212(a) [enhanced version available to subscribers], and the defraud conspiracy, [enhanced version available to subscribers], 18 USC Section 371, here) should be interpreted to have an element functionally equivalent to willfulness and hence that something like intentional violation of a known legal duty should apply. John A. Townsend, Tax Obstruction Crimes: Is Making the IRS's Job Harder Enough, [enhanced version available to subscribers], 9 Hous. Bus. & Tax. L.J. 255 (2009), here and in an online appendix with examples, Tax Obstruction Crimes: Is Making the IRS's Job Harder Enough? Online Appendix, 9 Hous. Bus. & Tax L.J. A-1 (2009), here.

Let's see what happened in the case.

The defendant undertook more or less standard tax protester actions, making monetary claims against IRS personnel and filing a lien against the agents' real and personal property. He was indicted for tax obstruction and another crime, [enhanced version available to subscribers], 18 USC § 1521, here, for filing a false lien.

At trial, the court gave a standard tax obstruction, first listing the elements of the crime as follows:

First: The defendant in any way corruptly;

Second: Endeavored to;

Third: Obstruct or impede the due administration of the Internal Revenue Laws.

After listing the elements, the trial court defined some of the terms in the elements:

"Endeavor" means to knowingly and intentionally make any effort which has a reasonable tendency to bring about the desired result. It is not necessary for the Government to prove that the "endeavor" was successful.

To act "corruptly" is to act with the intent to gain an unlawful advantage or benefit either for oneself or for another.

To "obstruct or impede" is to hinder or prevent from progress; to slow or stop progress; or to make accomplishment difficult or slow.

The phrase "due administration of the Internal Revenue laws" means the Internal Revenue Service of the Department of the Treasury carrying out its lawful functions to calculate and collect income taxes.

View Jack Townsend's opinion in its entirety on the Federal Tax Crimes blog site.

For additional insight, explore Tax Crimes, authored by Jack Townsend and available at the LexisNexis® Store


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