United States District Court, D. Minnesota
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
Leonard James Fisherman, Jr., has filed a petition for a writ
of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He
challenges his state court conviction for first degree
assault, arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction
over him. For the reasons set forth below, this Court
recommends that Mr. Fisherman's petition be dismissed.
2014, following a jury trial, Mr. Fisherman was convicted of
first degree assault and sentenced to 98 months in custody.
The charges stemmed from an incident in 2012, when Mr.
Fisherman assaulted another inmate while incarcerated at the
Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
Fisherman initiated this action by submitting a
“statement of facts of false imprisonment &
[ineffective assistance of counsel] claims.” ECF No. 1.
This Court sua sponte raised two concerns with the
document. First, it was unclear whether Mr. Fisherman was
attempting to seek habeas corpus relief or to raise some
other sort of claim. Second, if it was intended to be a
habeas petition, Mr. Fisherman's submission did not
substantially comply with Rule 2 of the Rules Governing
Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. This
Court therefore directed Mr. Fisherman to clarify whether he
intended to seek habeas corpus relief and, if so, ordered
that Mr. Fisherman submit an amended habeas petition that
substantially conformed with the Court's standard
document for such petitions. See ECF No. 8.
Fisherman has since affirmed that he does in fact seek habeas
corpus relief from a conviction and sentence incurred in the
Minnesota state courts. See ECF No. 9. Mr. Fisherman
has also submitted an amended habeas petition, as directed,
that not only complies with the local rules but that utilizes
the proper form. See ECF No. 9-1 at 3-17. The
petition has been referred to this Court for a Report and
Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local
Rule 72.1. This Court has conducted a preliminary review of
Mr. Fisherman's habeas petition under Rule 4 of the Rules
Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District
Courts, and recommends dismissal of Mr. Fisherman's
amended habeas corpus petition.
Legal Analysis: A Challenge to Jurisdiction
Fisherman's amended habeas corpus petition raises a
single claim for relief: that the state trial court did not
have personal jurisdiction over him because, he alleges, he
is not a citizen of the United States. See Am.
Petition at 7, ECF No. 9-1.
Minnesota Court of Appeals brusquely disposed of this claim
on direct review:
We first address a jurisdictional argument that Fisherman
makes only in his pro se supplemental brief. Fisherman argues
that he is a “sovereign citizen, ” exempt from
the laws of Minnesota, and that the district court lacked
jurisdiction over his prosecution. We have considered this
argument to the full extent that it merits consideration. The
“sovereign citizen” jurisdictional defense has
“no conceivable validity in American law.”
United States v. Schneider, 910 F.2d 1569, 1570 (7th
Cir.1990). The district court had jurisdiction to try
Fisherman because his criminal act occurred within Minnesota.
See Minn. Stat. § 609.025(1).
State v. Fisherman, No. A14-1591, 2015 WL 5511390,
at *2 (Minn.Ct.App. Sept. 21, 2015). The claim was likewise
considered and quickly rejected when raised on
post-conviction review in the state courts. See Fisherman
v. State, No. A15-1903, 2016 WL 3961939, at *3
(Minn.Ct.App. July 26, 2016).
Mr. Fisherman's challenge fares no better in federal
court for two reasons. As an initial matter, Mr.
Fisherman's claim is primarily one of state law, not
federal law. Minnesota statutes define the jurisdictional
limits of the Minnesota courts, and this Court “lack[s]
authority to review the Minnesota state courts'
interpretation and application of state law . . . .”
Evenstad v. Carlson, 470 F.3d 777, 782 (8th Cir.
2006) (citing Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68
(1991)). “The determination of whether a state court is
vested with jurisdiction under state law over a criminal case
is a function of the state courts, not the federal
courts.” Orlando v. Smith, No. 13-15203, 2014
WL 555182, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 12, 2014).
Fisherman suggests that by overstepping its jurisdictional
boundaries, a state court may infringe upon a
petitioner's federal due process rights, forming the
basis of a cognizable federal habeas corpus claim.
See Am. Petition at 23. Assuming that this is true -
and assuming that Mr. Fisherman fairly presented such a
federal due process claim to the state courts, see
28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) - the argument nonetheless fails in
Mr. Fisherman's case. Minnesota law provides that
“[a] person may be convicted and sentenced under the
law of this state if the person . . . commits an offense in
whole or in part within this state.” Minn. Stat. §
609.025(1). There is no dispute that the offense for which
Mr. Fisherman was convicted transpired wholly within the
State of Minnesota.
Mr. Fisherman's contention that he is not a citizen of
the United States, even if true, does not undermine the state
courts' jurisdiction to try him for the 2012 assault.
Under § 609.025, Mr. Fisherman need not be a U.S.
citizen to be convicted of a crime in the Minnesota courts.
Although Mr. Fisherman argues that he is a “sovereign
Christian man, ” Am. Petition at 24, and therefore not
subject to the state court's jurisdiction, neither state
nor federal courts have credited the “sovereign
citizen” challenges to jurisdiction raised by Mr.
Fisherman. The Minnesota Court of Appeals did not err when it
stated that “[t]he ‘sovereign citizen'
jurisdictional defense has ‘no conceivable validity in
American law.'” See, e.g., United
States v. Jagim, 978 F.2d 1032, 1036 (8th Cir. 1992)
(dismissing as “completely without merit” and
“patently frivolous” similar arguments
challenging jurisdiction, and collecting cases); United
States v. Hart, 701 F.2d 749 (8th ...