Cop watch activist Basil Marceaux is 66 years old and in ailing health. He has been arrested 27 times and attributes his courage in defying lawless public servants to his Marine Corps background and to a desire to preserve American liberties.
Mr. Marceaux is the bane of Tennessee judges and clerks for his dogged dealings with courts and his tangled arguments and briefs, which are muddled enough to disguise remarkable insights about constitutional government’s limits on state actors such as sheriff’s deputies.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
He is such a colorful person with a hoot of a political career that he recently sold rights to some of his videos to a German filmmaker for F$3,000.
“I’m going to be famous,” he says.
When I come to visit Mr. Marceaux in Room 3040 at Erlanger medical center in Chattanooga, he is staring at a laptop screen. He raises his eyebrows and says that he has just been reading an article about himself. I have written several articles about him, I say, suggesting I am the only Tennessee journalist who has sought to understand his legal arguments.
Mr. Marceaux’ political career had some fruity elements, such as his YouTube proclamations and his homemade campaign signs which oppose roadblocks — or demand the northward remap of the Georgia-Tennessee border by two miles. He was lampooned in the national talk show circuit as a bumbler and halfwit, the impression encouraged by the fact that he is missing all but three teeth and has a speech pattern that mixes a shuffling gait with impulsive shorthand statements chock full of legal terms and mispronounced phrases (“trible de novo” stands for trial de novo).
Fighting for commoners
Despite these comical elements, Mr. Marceaux is dead serious about the rights of the people represented in his forays into post-judgment pleadings and in his appeals to the civil and criminal courts of appeal in Nashville or Knoxville. Where an ordinary Hamilton Countian sees a landscape of hills, rivers and dales, Mr. Marceaux sees fault lines in legal structures and earthquakes ready to cut loose.
His main arguments:
➤ Cities are civil and cannot enforce criminal laws.
➤ Roadblocks by city cops are unconstitutional. So are those by sheriffs.
➤ Traffic stops almost always are outside the scope of the law.
➤ Lawyers and the bar profit on the hiding of liberty and an obscuring of the practical means by which people defend themselves from the absolutist state.
State of anarchy
Perhaps the main point that he makes that is of real value is the anarchy of cities. When Mr. Marceaux makes the statement of anarchy in cities he’s referring to something other than what you think he might be saying. When I would say anarchy in cities my reference is to police abuse and also misenforcement of laws by city police, outside of their authority.
When Mr. Marceaux refers to anarchy in cities, he is referring to what he believes to be the true legal state of living in municipal corporation
He says sheriffs are not allowed to operate in municipal corporations, but only in counties and therefore “cannot come in.” That means that state law cannot be enforced in city limits, only ordinances. Police departments do not have authority to enforce statute whether in the criminal title 39 or the transportation Title 55. Only the sheriff has authority to enforce laws and protect the people thereby, but they cannot come into the city limits, Mr. Marceaux says.
This analysis is based on what he says are numerous cases. But the one he discusses most is City of Chattanooga vs. Kevin Davis, No. E2000-00664-SC-R11-CV, 2001 (incorporating Frank Barrett v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County). An earlier opinion, City Chattanooga vs. Myers, 787 S.W.2d 921 (1990), makes a similar point about limits on municipal power.
Mr. Marceaux says that sheriff’s departments do not have authority to enforce any laws within the corporate limits and that city police departments within the corporate limits have authority to enforce only ordinances. That means that the citizenry in Chattanooga or Soddy-Daisy or East Ridge have no law protecting them, nor is there law prohibiting any act — whether it inhaling cocaine or murder.
“They said the sheriff cannot come in with state law. That makes us 100 percent an anarchy. The supreme court in Davis said cities are civil, maximum fine $50. *** If they said the sheriff can’t come in, but today he does come in by working with the city police where the supreme court already ruled is civil. So he’s violating his oath of office.”
Cops enforce ordinances. Do cops have power to enforce any law in the criminal code (Title 39) or the transportation code (Title 55)?
“No, as they already ruled in my case.” He cites the Jeremy Shinn case on cocaine and pills, and his license, registration and insurance cases, and says cops and chiefs are mere process servers “and there is no chief for the sheriff to work with. If the chief goes away, the sheriff’s jail is empty.”
The claims of anarchy sound esoteric and improbable.
But they are part of Mr. Marceaux’ regular thinking patterns in the hallways of the county courthouse and at home. He lives in a rickety trailer on a tree-covered hilltop in Soddy-Daisy, just north of Chattanooga, near a public high school. He lives with his wife, Katona, his son Basil Jr. and his girlfriend; and a boarder. He travels about in an old SUV.
Where courage comes from?
Mr. Marceaux makes steadfast objection to roadblocks and transportation stops, and has a courage unmatched in Tennessee.
“I’m a force recon Marine,” he says, “trained to be the first in, into any major situation, trained how to handle each situation as it comes.”
A visitor asks, “Being shot at by the enemy, being buffeted by concussions from grenades and mortar shells is one thing. But being arrested by a peace officer in your own country, in your own hometown, is something else.”
“It’s the same,” he says. “Over there, I can run and turn the other way. Here, they’ll shoot me in the back. It’s the same — it’s worse,” he decides. “Overseas, we’re known as the land of jails.”
He says in Davis, “if a city joins forces with the county in any way, the whole county is civil. Davis.” He says the dissent in Davis not as powerful as the winning side, but is found there. “It says when cities join forces with the county, the whole county is civil,” which means a city and a county are outside the scope of the criminal statutes.
“If you sit in a courtroom as many times as I have, the poor citizens that are coming up on the bench, they are so scared. Hey, I’ve been there. I was scared. It took me awhile, though, to be unscared. The worst they can do to me is throw me in jail, contempt of court. I can easily do 15 days. *** But another citizen, on the other hand, they’re scared. They have to make a deal. They have to make a plea deal. The lawyers don’t use the law to get them out.
“I take it upon myself because I was a victim. I’ve been a victim 30 times. I find every time I get in a car I could be a victim again. Everyone’s a victim.”
Mr. Marceaux seems not to view himself as a representative of the people, but in an atomized capacity. Notice a visitor’s question and his quirky response.
He tells a fanciful story about the American flag having fallen off a cliff, and a commander demands a Marine to throw himself after it to catch it and hit the ground blow first to protect the flag. “I showed initiative, but it was the stupidest thing I ever did in my life. But days later it paid off. I was a gunnery sergeant, being paid lance corporal money. He said I have initiative. But today, semper fi — once a Marine always a marine, what does all that mean?”
A visitor interrupts these musings.
“That’s all fine, Basil, but what about my listener, who’s just a working man. He’s got debts. He has an old car. He has got a girlfriend who’s pregnant with his child. He drinks now and then. He’s on the road, he’s worried about it, and he’s black? He’s the wrong color. What about him? He’s not a Marine. What does he need to know to courageously defend his rights? What is the essential element he needs to have in his mind, or his heart?”
Trial de novo and stun guns
“The shortest thing I could tell anyone to do is to have the guts to say after any decision by any decision by any county court, out loud, without a lawyer, say I want to appeal my case to circuit court using Tennessee code antidote 27-204-101.” ‡
“Is that the trial de novo provision?”
“Yes. Not one judge knows it. And not one lawyer uses it or, if asked, knows it.”
What about the brave words to the cop, before the courtroom dealings?
“I advise you not to say anything. One thing, they have gangs. You know, you say to one, ‘let me yank you out of the car,’ and then 10 jump on top of you. Then they stun you with the electric gun. *** Yes, I’ve been beaten and stunned. I took 12 stuns.”
The visitor rephrases his question to ask how a commoner can take courage and stand his ground.
“There is nothing he can do, Dave, because there’s too many of them. If you have two cops there, and you say anything out of the ordinary, they yank you out of the car, then six more come, and they’ll bring dogs. So the best thing I can say is you have to wait till you go to court.
“And if you hire a lawyer, make sure if he don’t use Tennessee code antidote 27-4-101 [“Any party dissatisfied with the sentence, judgment, or decree of the county court, may pray an appeal to the circuit court of the county *** ”] — or Davis, or Myers — you fire them and tell the judge you want your money back and get another attorney until you get one that uses it. And if that doesn’t work, you order the judge to order the lawyer to use it.”
‡ Here is the trial de novo provision from any negative ruling in city or sessions court in Tennessee.
Little known new trial right
Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-3-131. Appeals in misdemeanor cases — Trial de novo — Jury trial.
(a) Notwithstanding Rule 5(c)(2) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure to the contrary, the defendant may in any case covered by such rule appeal a verdict of guilty or the sentence imposed or both to the circuit or criminal court for a trial de novo with or without a jury.
(b) Demand for a jury trial shall be made at the time of filing an appeal under § 27-5-108, to the circuit or criminal court. If such demand is not made at the time of filing the appeal, the right to a trial by jury is waived.