United States v. Ward

989 F.2d 1015 (9th Cir. 1992)



There is no constitutionally or statutorily required form of oath. Fed. R. of Evid. 603 requires only that a witness declare that the witness will testify truthfully, by oath or affirmation administered in a form calculated to awaken the witness' conscience and impress the witness' mind with the duty to do so.


Ward is the president of I&O Publishing Company, a mail-order house and publisher located in Boulder City, Nevada. The prosecution presented evidence at trial that despite having substantial income, neither I&O nor Ward filed tax returns or paid income taxes for the years 1983, 1984 and 1985. 1990 a grand jury indicted Ward on three counts each of tax evasion and failure to file income tax returns. Defendant challenged his conviction of attempted income tax evasion and failure to file income taxes. Defendant filed a Motion to Challenge the Oath, which proposed an alternative oath that replaced the word "truth" with the phrase "fully integrated Honesty." During trial, defendant offered to take both the standard oath and his oath. The prosecutor was amenable to the compromise, but the district court refused to allow it.


Did the district court's insistence on an oath that violated Wards’ beliefs abridge his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and his Fifth Amendment right to testify in his own defense?




The court reversed and remanded, holding that the district court clearly abused its discretion in refusing defendant's oath and preventing defendant's testimony solely on the basis of his religiously-based objections to the form of the oath. The court found that defendant's actions evinced the strength of his beliefs because he preferred to risk conviction and incarceration rather than abandon his version of the oath. The court also found that defendant's professed beliefs were protected under U.S. Const. amend. I.

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