The Case of the Day, United States v. Goodyke (8th Cir. 2011), involves the misuse of an apostille. Goodyke and Robinson held unusual views about the government. They sold fraudulent “diplomatic immunity cards” to like-minded people, telling the buyers that the cards would allow them “to avoid paying taxes, and would entitle them to immunity from being detained or arrested by law enforcement officers.” According to Goodyke’s brief, the evidence regarding the purpose of the scheme was as follows:

The undercover officer, Det. Rod Gentry of the KCMO Police Department, adopted the name of Marty Riggs for the operation, and proceeded over the early months of 2006 to have numerous meetings and telephone conversations with both Mr. Denham [another defendant] and Mr. Robinson. On February 11, 2007, Gentry attended a meeting of some 10-14 people at a karate school in Independence, Missouri, at which Mr. Robinson was the speaker. The meeting was in the nature of an “educational class” in which Robinson expounded “his views of the Constitution and so forth.”

Among the topics discussed was the process by which, as Robinson and Denham believed, an individual could reclaim  his sovereignty. This process involved three basic steps, including (1) executing and notarizing an “act of state,” this being a document that set forth an individual’s personal declaration of sovereignty and of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, (2) obtaining an apostille for the act of state document from the local Secretary of State’s office, and (3) obtaining a diplomatic identification card and badge.

Let’s just pause to consider how ridiculous this is. But it seems that Robinson, at least, really believed in it (at least according to Goodyke’s brief):

On September 20, 2007, federal and local officers initiated a prearranged traffic stop of Mr. Robinson’s vehicle, during which Mr. Robinson presented officers with his own diplomatic identification card and credentials. A search of his vehicle revealed another identification card in the name of Larry Terry Smith. Both Robinson’s card and Smith’s card also contained the State Department seal.

It appears that the apostilles used on the bogus IDs were genuine. The “act of state” declaring the person’s “sovereignty and citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven” was “notarized.” I assume that means that a notary took an acknowledgment or administered an oath, although it appears from the government’s brief that at least some buyers never appeared before a notary even though a notary signed the document. The apostille certified the genuineness of the notary’s signature, nothing more. But the defendants, according to the government’s brief, claimed that the apostille “was proof that the ‘Act of State’ was recognized by the state as ‘real and valid.'”

It should come as no surprise that the defendants’ convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal. I want to note two points on apostilles:

First, this is not the first time scammers have used an apostille to give a fraudulent document an air of legitimacy. Indeed, the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference prepared a report in 2008 regarding the use of apostilles in connection with fraudulent diplomas from “diploma mills.”

Second, unlike in the case of fraudulent diplomas, where there is a real question whether the diplomas are “public documents” to which it is proper to affix an apostille, there seems to be no question that it is proper to issue an apostille to a document that bears a notarial certificate; nothing in the Apostille Convention requires the competent authority to screen the underlying document before certifying the notary’s signature and seal. But competent authorities surely could do more to dispell the view the defendants and their customers had in this case, namely that an apostille makes the underlying document somehow more official. Folks like Goodyke, Robinson, and their customers seem strangely impressed by fancy-looking seals and imposing-looking documents. Perhaps in addition to public education, competent authorities might consider making their apostilles look more pedestrian.