As a cop who runs a number of social media pages related to my career, one of the types of folks we often encounter is the “traveler,” also known as a sovereign citizen (there are various levels of these folks). Among other crazy assertions they often make, repeatedly, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is that there is no legal requirement to have a drivers license in order to operate a motor vehicle on public highways.
Seriously, some of these people really believe that, and they quote things such as the Articles of Confederation as supporting evidence.
Let me say this here and now, if you are one of those fools, and you really believe the Articles of Confederation have any legal relevance today, please stop reading now before you pass out, because you are going to forget to breathe. The Articles of Confederation ceased to have legal relevance in 1789, when the Constitution of the United States was ratified, and superseded the Articles of Confederation.
Ok, now that we have eliminated the mouth breathers from this conversation, let us move on.
Besides the Articles of Confederation, they often quote antiquated case law (antiquated because they refer to horse and buggies) or misquote current case law in an attempt to substantiate their claims. Also, they will say that since they pay taxes, in the form of sales tax (since they also think they are not required to pay income tax), that the sales tax revenue they provide allows them totally unhindered use of the public highway system.
I have had more than a few of them direct me to a website which (incorrectly) states “U.S. Supreme Court says No License Necessary To Drive Automobile On Public Highways/Streets“ and it offers all sorts of (totally out of context) quotations with supreme court cases listed which the author (incorrectly) states prove a license is not required. So, I will assume you have followed that embedded link and can see the rather official looking website that it takes you to. On that site, there is a bunch of official looking text that quotes all sorts of case law, and the page seems to indicate that good ‘ol Deputy Matt doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about.
But wait just a moment. How’s about we examine a few of the cases that they reference?
First up (and second), Thompson v. Smith
This is a case from Virginia and it was heard by the court in 1930. This was not a case about whether or not a person has the right to drive without a license, it was a case in which Thompson claimed that his license (permit back then) was illegally revoked by the Chief of Police, even though the laws in question put that burden on the Chief. The court agreed, and stated that the Chief of Police could not, at his discretion, randomly revoke driving privileges, but the courts could via due process (a hearing).
Here is the paragraph from this case that these “travelers” always refer to, followed by the two paragraphs that immediately follow that cited paragraph in the court’s ruling.
The right of a citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon in the ordinary course of life and business is a common right which he has under his right to enjoy life and liberty, to acquire and possess property, and to pursue happiness and safety. It includes the right in so doing to use the ordinary and usual conveyances of the day; and under the existing modes of travel includes the right to drive a horse-drawn carriage or wagon thereon, or to operate an automobile thereon, for the usual and ordinary purposes of life and business. It is not a mere privilege, like the privilege of moving a house in the street, operating a business stand in the street, or transporting persons or property for hire along the street, which a city may permit or prohibit at will.
The exercise of such a common right the city may, under its police power, regulate in the interest of the public safety and welfare; but it may not arbitrarily or unreasonably prohibit or restrict it, nor may it permit one to exercise it and refuse to permit another of like qualifications, 378*378 under like conditions and circumstances, to exercise it. Taylor Smith, 140 Va. 217, 124 S.E. 259; Ex parte Dickey, 76 W.Va. 576, 85 S.E. 781, L.R.A. 1915-F, 840; Hadfield Lundin, 98 Wash. 657, 168 Pac. 516, L.R.A. 1918-B, 909, Ann. Cas. 1918-C, 942.
[7, 8] The regulation of the exercise of the right to drive a private automobile on the streets of the city may be accomplished in part by the city by granting, refusing, and revoking, under rules of general application, permits to drive an automobile on its streets; but such permits may not be arbitrarily refused or revoked, or permitted to be held by some and refused to other of like qualifications, under like circumstances and conditions.
The second and third paragraphs cited above SPECIFICALLY note that the state has a valid right and reason, namely the interest of public safety, to license drivers in order to operate a motor vehicle on the public roadways.
For those slow on the uptake, a drivers license requirement is legal (speaking even slower, you need to have a license to drive).
That whole entire case can be read here: Thompson v. Smith
Or for those too lazy to read all of that, someone was nice enough to put together a YouTube video in which he goes through the case.
Moving on down the line, Caneisha Mills v. D.C. 2009
Here we are again and the dimwits are looking at a totally unrelated case in an effort to prove something the case most definitely does not. This case directly addresses whether or not police checkpoints violate the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The court ruled that the checkpoints that the District of Columbia Police had established around a certain neighborhood were not legal because they were far too broad in scope and did not meet the criteria established in previous case law for checkpoints. The case has absolutely NOTHING to do with the need (or lack thereof) to have a drivers license in order to operate a motor vehicle on public highways.
For those who want to read the case, it can be found here: Caneisha Mills v. D.C. 2009
Next at bat, Berberian v. Lussier (1958)
This is a case in which a licensed driver was involved in a crash and afterward, failed to provide proof of financial responsibility (insurance). His continued failure to provide said insurance resulted in his license being suspended. The court did concede that the use of a motor vehicle is indeed necessary in modern life, but also stated that it is not without regulation.
The use of the automobile as a necessary adjunct to the earning of a livelihood in modern life requires us in the interest of realism to conclude that the right to use an automobile on the public highways partakes of the nature of a liberty within the meaning of the constitutional guarantees of which the citizen may not be deprived without due process of law. (emphasis added)
They continued on later saying:
Whatever may be its nature, the right to use the public highways for travel by motor vehicles is one which properly can be regulated by the legislature in the valid exercise of the police power of the state. Financial responsibility statutes have been held to constitute a reasonable regulation of the public highways and a proper measure for protecting the public safety.
So, not only can they regulate our right to drive (requiring a license) but they can also require that we provide financial responsibility (insurance).
So, let me speak slow and clear again, you must not only have a drivers license, but you must also have insurance (or bond).
The case can be found here: Berberian v. Lussier (1958)
Three up, three down! Those are the first three cases (cited four times) that the rocket scientists offer as proof that they do not need a drivers license. These are their best evidence, and exactly NONE of those cases state what they claim they state. In fact, the cases actually prove the opposite; that a license requirement is totally legal.
I’m stopping at this point because if you are still under the completely moronic opinion that a drivers license is not required to drive a car on public streets, nothing I can say here is ever going to convince you. Good luck in court. Hope you have the money for the tow and storage fees.
And, because apparently adding a photo of the supreme court means everything on your webpage is legally accurate, here is a photo of the supreme court…