Abraham Lincoln, a crafty lawyer before he became an immortal president, said: "He who represents himself has a fool for a client?"
I wonder what Honest Abe would have thought of Matthew Duncan.
Thanks to the National Post, we're introduced to Mr. Duncan, a Grimsby, Ont., man stopped and ticketed two years ago for turning into his apartment-building parking lot at 3 a.m. without using his turn signal.
According to the Post, Duncan refused to produce his driver's licence, claiming the police didn't have jurisdiction over him. The confrontation escalated into a scuffle that ended up with Duncan being zapped with a taser and arrested for assault.
Duncan pleaded not guilty and represented himself in the Ontario Court of Justice. And he won in spite of himself, according to Justice Fergus O'Donnell's ruling.
The Post said O'Donnell's 4,200-word ruling, which referenced William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, concluded that despite arguments the judge dismissed as "nonsense and gobbledygook," Duncan was entitled to an acquittal based on solid legal principle, not the man's Internet-based points.
"Sadly, when human beings are let loose with computers and internet access, their work product does not necessarily compare favourably to … monkeys with typewriters," O’Donnell wrote, according to the Post.
Duncan apparently decided to invoke the discredited "natural persons" defence in contesting his arrest.
According to a web site dedicated to the concept, natural persons are god-created individuals with "unalienable rights for life, liberty and property ... "
"In an attempt to create a safe society, men elected governments to protect and uphold your unalienable rights and your responsibilities to the Creator and your fellow man," the site explains.
"After a while, governments became corrupt and now we have to ask: How could governments and other 'regulatory bodies' possibly make you follow their rules and be subservient to them since your true allegiance is to your Creator?
"How can you serve two masters - your creator and your government? The answer is that you cannot serve two masters, therefore the government had to create a system that tricks you into thinking you must serve them, where in fact, governments must serve us, the people."
The state created an "artificial person" but the "natural person" has no obligation to adhere to its laws and regulations, the site argues. Rules like paying taxes, being a wage slave and, in Duncan's case, producing a driver's licence.
This line of reasoning has been employed unsuccessfully by people who've refused to pay income taxes. In January, an Ottawa dentist and his wife were fined and sentenced to house arrest for evading more than $300,000 in tax.
Duncan came to court with a thick binder of material to argue his case as a "natural person."
"Mr. Duncan provided me with an 'affidavit of truth,' a rather substantial volume that appeared to me to be the result of somebody doing a Google search for terms like 'jurisdiction' and the like and then cobbling them together in such a way that it makes James Joyce’s Ulysses look like an easy read," O’Donnell wrote, the Post reported.
"Such arguments are a waste of the court’s time and resources, a selfish and/or unthinking act of disrespect to other litigants and deserving of no further attention, energy or comment."
Nevertheless, O'Donnell acquitted Duncan on all charges because regardless of his silly arguments, he was right in claiming police had no lawful reason to pull him over in the first place.
"In that moment, before he continued down the Alice in Wonderland garden path of trusts and jurisdiction and dollar amounts and contracts and natural persons and administrators, Mr. Duncan momentarily hit upon the concept that would ultimately lead to his acquittal, albeit not by the rather circuitous and, with all due respect, silly path he wanted to go down," O'Donnell said.
"Applying the rather more prosaic concepts of the elements of the offence and an analysis of 'who did what to whom why,' the only conclusion reasonably open to me on the evidence at this trial was that the police and Crown failed entirely to articulate a lawful foundation for the attempt to arrest Mr. Duncan. The evidence before me failed to demonstrate that the purported arrest of Mr. Duncan was lawful. A citizen is entitled to resist an arrest that is unlawful."
But he cautioned Duncan that there's more to being an unencumbered "freeman of the land" than the thinking he was free of societal obligations. Duncan might, the judge said, "wish to contemplate some more productive reading on the Internet, reading which emphasises the importance of responsibilities as much as society’s ongoing and sometimes exclusive fixation on rights."