Skip to main content
Sovereign Citizens, Copwatchers Soliciting Trespass Watkins v. Miller Case

Sovereign Citizens, Copwatchers Soliciting Trespass Watkins v. Miller Case

I am Michael Ehline, Esq. I am a Willis, Texas, and Los Angeles injury/civil rights lawyer. I was an early supporter of the sovereign citizen movement and traditional common law courts in particular. I [rightly] believed that our court system and police officers generally violate the unalienable rights of the less advantaged. I ended up becoming a lawyer, thinking I could fight the system from within, the same way the secular humanists did to our schools in the 1960s.

Traffic stops and police watch protocols for patriots are rooted in the sovereign citizen movement of the 1980s. Sovereign citizen ideology, and to a lesser degree, cop watcher and First Amendment Auditor beliefs, tend to rely on many unpublished cases or misreading of the law, as discussed. Many sovereign citizens engage police in roadside lawyering.

Sovereign citizens are the extreme of auditors and often hate paying taxes, don’t want a birth certificate (the family bible is okay), and consider most law enforcement officers as enforcing commercial law that does not apply to them. They are also considered to be part of the posse comitatus movement. In the middle, we have ordinary people documenting public buildings and officials and holding them to account. How they do it is often based on legal concepts that do not pass judicial muster.

Sovereign citizen arguments include the concept that police cannot ask a private business to ask the shop owner if they want police to cite (“solicit”) you for trespass. I’m afraid that’s wrong; it is NOT any law I could find, and it could very well land you in jail. As an aside, if you don’t want to be treated like anti-government extremists, get a better understanding of the legal system and how to brief case law. Otherwise, you could end up in jail or even federal prison.

  • It is NOT a Federal Crime for cops to Solicit a Trespass, aka Ask a Manager if they Want Someone to Leave!

This is the case your typical sovereign citizen group will use to say cops can’t ask store owners if they want to “trespass” someone. To understand why cops can’t “solicit a trespass” in the context of filming police, private or public buildings, we must delve into the matter. We’ll start by examining Watkins v. Miller, an unpublished case.

“‘Specifically, the district court found that there was no constitutional violation because Watkins did not allege that he was told that he was not free to leave or that he was wrongfully forced to stay on the property while Miller processed a formal trespass warning.'”

Justia

In this case, Watkins claimed he was seized to cite him as a trespasser. Watkins appeared to argue that he was forced to stay for a trespass warning when all he had to do was leave, and there would be no trespass. (also wrong).

Watkins alleged that Miller unreasonably seized him and denied him of liberty without due process when Miller gave him an unauthorized trespass warning on private property.” “Watkins alleged that Miller unreasonably seized him and denied him of liberty without due process when Miller gave him an unauthorized trespass warning on private property.

In other words, party A (law enforcement officers) encouraged party B (Ex, someone who knows they will trespass if they go along with it) to break the law, aka “solicitation.”

The question arises: Does a cop asking a business or public official if they want to cite a disruptive visitor for trespass constitute solicitation? Generally, the answer is HELL NO! But first, I need you to listen to me. Stop citing unpublished cases like Watkins v. Miller, and stop citing cases out of your jurisdiction until you Sheperdize them.

Depublished Case Defined

The term’ depublished case’ refers to a legal case where the verdict or opinion has been deselected from official law reporting or mentioned in legal databases. This implies that the case can’t be referenced as a legal precedent for future cases, nor can it be used as a trusted resource in law-based discussions. Various reasons might motivate a court’s decision to depublish a case. For instance, they may perceive the verdict as inaccurate or contradict other legal precedents.

Alternatively, specific or confidential factors may be involved in the case, rendering it unsuitable for use as a past example. In essence, the depublishing of a case wipes it from the broad body of recognized law that attorneys and judges use as a roadmap to interpret and enforce the law in ongoing cases. 

Still, it’s crucial to highlight that just because a case has been depublished, it doesn’t mean it has vanished into thin air or lost its value completely. While it doesn’t hold weight as a binding precedent, it could have relevance in specific situations, such as for educational reasons or to offer some context on legal matters. In some regions, depublished cases can also be treated as persuasive authority. Despite not being binding on the Court, they can validate a stance in legal discussions.

Solicitation Defined

Think of criminal solicitation as a scenario where someone tries to persuade, tempt, or provoke another individual to partake in illegal activities. It involves a proactive persuasion or tempting of someone else to perform an illicit act. Solicitation, as a criminal act, typically happens before the intended illegality occurs, and its prosecution can proceed even if the crime above doesn’t come to fruition. 

Consider this: if an individual urges someone else to carry out a robbery or become involved in a drug trafficking operation, they can face charges for soliciting a theft or drug trafficking—even if the intended crime isn’t committed. 

Legal stipulations surrounding criminal solicitation may not be uniform across all regions. Still, it’s typically perceived as a grave violation thanks to its propensity to promote criminal deeds and its harmful implications for the community. The penalties for solicitation can vary greatly, ranging from monetary fines to imprisonment—depending on the local jurisdiction’s laws and the offense’s seriousness.

Trespass in Florida at that Time?

‘”A trespass in a structure or conveyance under Florida law occurs when a person, ‘without being authorized, licensed, or invited, willfully enters or remains in any structure or conveyance, or, having been authorized, licensed, or invited, is warned by the owner or lessee of the premises, or by a person authorized by the owner or lessee, to depart and refuses to do so.’ Fla. Stat. § 810.08(1). In short, Fla. Stat. § 810.08(1) prohibits trespassing inside structures or conveyances when an owner or authorized person gives notice to the person to leave. See id.'”

Enter the Depublished Case – Watkins v. Miller

“In Watkins v. Miller, a key insight was provided into the complex legal nuances discourse surrounding the notion of soliciting a trespass. The court declared that one can only be guilty of criminal solicitation if they’re instigating someone to commit an unlawful act.”

In his § 1983 complaint, Watkins alleged that, on August 30, 2014, he was in a shopping center parking lot when Miller approached him and said that he had received an anonymous call from someone who did not want Watkins on the property. Miller told Watkins that he was trespassing and instructed him to leave the property and not return.

Watkins asked Miller if the owners of the property had said he was trespassing, and Miller responded that he did not know who had called. In response to Miller’s instruction, Watkins refused to leave the property, arguing that Miller did not have the authority or authorization to order Watkins to leave the property.

Eric Watkins v. Brian Miller, No. 18-14165 (11th Cir. 2019)

Thus, the Court’s logic and legal precedent tell us that trespassing is unlawful.

  • Soliciting a trespass implies encouraging, inviting, or otherwise facilitating an individual to enter or remain on certain premises unlawfully. A principal element of soliciting a trespass charge involves the individual knowingly acting against the property owner’s wishes.
  • In Watkins v. Miller, the Court dismissed the appellant’s First Amendment defense, ensuring that free speech rights do not pardon individuals from trespassing on private property. Therefore, any act to solicit a trespass could be considered endorsing an illegal activity.
  • The ‘Copwatch’ movement monitors and documents police activity to deter misconduct and ensure accountability. The ruling in City of Houston v. Hill protected this activity by upholding the public’s First Amendment right to critique or record the police. But what happens when their activities take place on private property?
  • Sovereign citizens often claim exemption from local, state, and federal laws, basing their views on Alternative Law theories. However, the ruling in US v. Hines further reinforced that such claims do not legally exempt them from obeying the laws of the land.

What About No Trespassing Signs?

“Specifically, Watkins claimed that Miller lacked the authority to make such an order under Florida law because there were no “no trespassing” signs. Hence, [according to ] Miller was not the property owner or a person authorized by the owner.” “The district court denied Watkins’s motion to proceed IFP and sua sponte dismissed his complaint without prejudice as frivolous, pursuant to 28 USC.”

Despite their sovereignty claims, ‘Sovereign Citizens’ remain bound by the laws and regulations, nullifying their assumed freedom to encourage trespass or disregard property rights. The idea of soliciting a trespass clashes with the legal necessity for consent from the property owner, forming a tight spot for any who try to justify these actions under the guise of alternative legal interpretations. It’s crucial to comprehend that even an invitation to trespass does not bypass this mandate, making it impossible to solicit a trespass legally. 

Here, “Watkins did not identify in his complaint any actual deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty interest or any constitutionally inadequate process that occurred. To the extent Watkins asserts a liberty interest in remaining in the shopping center’s parking lot, Watkins did not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in remaining on that private property. In contrast to public property, Watkins did not have a liberty interest in remaining in a private parking lot, and the officers explained to him that he was trespassing and gave him an opportunity to leave. See Fla. Stat. § 810.09(1)(a)(1); Catron, 658 F.3d at 1266.

Further, Watkins’s argument that Miller lacked the authority or authorization to issue him a trespass warning under Florida trespass law and, therefore, provided him with inadequate process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment is unfounded. Watkins’s encounter with Miller occurred in a parking lot on private property, which is property other than a structure or conveyance covered under Fla. Stat. § 810.09(1)(a)(1). See RCW, 507 So. 2d at 702 (explaining that a parking lot of a mall is property other than a structure or conveyance).

Unlike Fla. Stat. § 810.08(1), a trespass warning by an owner or authorized person is not required under § 810.09(1)(a)(1). (See Fla. Stat. §§ 810.08(1), 810.09(1)(a)(1). As Watkins was in a parking lot and not inside a structure or conveyance, Miller provided the requisite notice that Watkins was prohibited from remaining on that property and instructed that he leave. See id. § 810.09(1)(a)(1).”

Here, the Court also ruled that any other reasonable person knew they could have left at any time.

Dabbling into the realm of ”Copwatchers”

Their activities are primarily protected under the First Amendment as they serve to promote transparency and ensure police accountability. However, the protection of free speech may be waived if it involves illegal activities such as trespassing. This means that while Copwatchers are free to document and critique police activities, they must do so while respecting the boundaries of private property and the rights of others. 

Intertwining the law, civil rights, and individual freedom weaves a complex tapestry. Watkins v. Miller serves as a precedent, guiding us through the dilemmas that arise when we delve deep into soliciting a trespass, sovereign citizens, and copwatchers.

“FRIVOLOUS” Watkins v. Miller Case

Trespassing charges were upheld when a citizen was asked to leave the privately owned property. This case helps to set the precedent that one cannot solicit a trespass, as it would involve enticing or encouraging illegal activity. City of Houston v. Hill The Supreme Court struck down a Houston ordinance, making it illegal to obstruct police officers from carrying out their duties.

Copwatchers often cite this case as protecting their right to observe and document police activity. US v. Hines A member of the ‘Moorish Nation’ identified as a sovereign citizen was successfully prosecuted for document fraud. This case affirms that sovereign citizens are not immune from local, state, and federal laws.

Ultimately, Watkins v. Miller serves as a sobering reminder that constitutional freedoms, while vital to preserving democratic society, do not cover the perpetuation of illegal activities. Encouraging trespass, even under pretensions of sovereignty or accountability, is legally untenable and may result in punitive consequences for those advocating such behavior. 

What Soliciting a Trespass IS?

When we say someone has solicited a trespass, we’re talking about someone who has encouraged, prompted, or even asked someone else to trespass or stay and be trespassed. Remember that trespassing means illegally entering or staying within the precincts of someone else’s property without their explicit permission. Thus, soliciting a trespass refers to urging someone else to solicit ANOTHER to TRESPASS. Interestingly, even if the solicited trespass does not happen, the instigation is deemed a crime. 

Despite its regular usage in certain circles, soliciting a trespass as a concept is somewhat novel and unclear in legal history. More often than not, it’s associated with scenarios where people incite others to partake in acts of protest or civil resistance that necessitate trespassing. These instances vary widely, from compelling a sit-in protest at a privately-owned establishment to persuading masses to occupy government-owned premises. 

Soliciting a trespass can get convoluted when you throw sovereign citizens and copwatchers into the equation. Considering that sovereign citizens tend to reject the jurisdiction of the state and its respective laws, including those about property rights, things can get dicey. Copwatchers may argue that their endeavors are safeguarded under the First Amendment freedoms of speech and press, even despite potential trespassing or encouraging others to do so. 

Although it is not directly related to soliciting a trespass, the Watkins v. Miller case offers some interesting insights. The case revolved around whether a police officer could be held accountable for arresting a man filming them from his property. The Court ultimately gave the officer qualified immunity, a legal safeguard typically reserved for government officials. This case underscores the ongoing discourses about boundaries regarding property rights, state authority, and individuals’ rights to scrutinize police activity. 

So, the next time you encounter a potential trespass situation, it’s important to remember always to respect the rights of others. Exercising restraint is vital, as attempts to seek justice, hold someone accountable, or express freedom should never compromise the rights of another individual.