Consider these actual recent situations: A signer in Washington state requested an acknowledgment for a document giving him the power to arrest people. A Notary in Tennessee faced a signer with a document that declared him “above and beyond the laws of the United States.” And in California, one person presented a Notary with a document that declared him immune from being stopped by police.
While they aren’t everyday occurrences, Notaries sometimes encounter odd, unusual or troubling requests for notarizations from the public. As ministerial officials, Notaries are not required to know and understand the details of the documents they are notarizing. However, it’s incumbent upon Notaries to weigh every request against state statutes and ethical best practices to determine whether the requested act is proper. And if a Notary has any reasonable suspicion that an act or document itself is either illegal, improper, or being used to abet an illegality or impropriety, the notarization should be refused.
In many cases “bizarre” documents are used for illegal or even criminal purposes. In Missouri earlier this year three men were convicted of selling fraudulent “diplomatic identification cards” and other so-called credentials to clients, claiming that they would offer diplomatic immunity. The credentials, in which the clients renounced their U.S. citizenship, were notarized to give them a seeming veil of legitimacy.
And in Nevada, a man walked into a Wells Fargo branch and attempted to seize cash and documents from the vault, armed with a notarized document claiming he had “special legal powers” to do so. Obviously, prosecutors did not agree and he and four accomplices are now facing criminal charges.
If the Notary has knowledge or a clear, reasonable suspicion that any document is going to be used for an unlawful or improper purpose — as an extreme example, a written, self-proclaimed statement declaring the signer has a legal right to commit armed robbery — the Notary should refuse to notarize the document, said NNA Vice President of Notary Affairs Charles N. Faerber. Similarly, if a Notary is in doubt about whether a requested act is lawful or proper, the Notary is justified in refusing to proceed.
At the same time, however, Notaries should never put themselves in a position where they may be harmed by a signer. If a signer becomes threatening or violent because a Notary refuses to proceed, the safest course may be to comply with the request, remove oneself from the dangerous situation as soon as possible, report the incident to the police, and then note the circumstances in the record book, Faerber said.
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