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Proposed Law Seeks Strict Penalties Against Misuse Of Notarized Documents

gavelthumb2.jpgLawmakers in Illinois have proposed a new bill that would grant the Secretary of State more authority in handling apostille requests, while also enforcing stricter penalties against individuals found guilty of the deliberate misuse of notarized documents. With the proposed law, Illinois joins other states in a growing nationwide effort to prevent the unlawful use of notarized documents by so-called "sovereign citizens" activists and other scam artists.

Activists involved in the sovereign citizens movement file unnecessary, unethical, or illegal notarized documents as a way to wage battle against U.S. laws, avoid paying taxes and harass government officials, such as public prosecutors and judges.

To crack down on such acts, states such as California, Oregon, Nevada and Utah — and now Illinois — have implemented or proposed laws prohibiting authentication of notarized sovereign state documents. The Illinois bill, now pending before the state's legislature, gives the Secretary of State the authority to reject a request for an apostille for a number of reasons, including:

  • The document makes a claim regarding or purports to affect citizenship, immunity, allegiance to a government or jurisdiction, sovereignty, or any similar or related matter.
  • The Secretary of State has reasonable cause to believe the document may be used to accomplish any fraudulent, criminal, or unlawful purpose.

The bill also would prohibit individuals from tampering with official documents. A first-time violation would be a misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would be treated as felonies.

Notaries presented with bogus "protests" and other documents can refuse to notarize many of them without violating their responsibility to serve the public regardless of a signer's political or personal beliefs. Homeland Security and the FBI have issued guidelines to help determine if a signer might be a part of the sovereign citizens movement.

For more information on the sovereign citizens movement, check out the FBI's report.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

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