A Montana man sentenced to one to five years in prison Wednesday was offered probation, but argued his way into prison.
An audio recording of the hearing depicts a bizarre proceeding that saw Daryl Laray Johnson argue that he is a “Moorish National” and therefore an Idaho judge had no jurisdiction over him. Moor, in this instance, refers to a religious sect formed in the 1920s on the belief that African-Americans were descended from the Moors of north Africa and are members of the Islamic faith. Adherents also believe Moors were America’s indigenous inhabitants and are entitled to self-governance.
Johnson, 32, of Great Falls, pleaded guilty March 1 to possession of marijuana in excess of three ounces, reduced from trafficking marijuana. He was stopped for speeding in November by Idaho State Police and found with more than a pound of marijuana.
Johnson fired his attorney at the hearing and asked to represent himself.
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“Moorish cannot be represented by white people,” Johnson said. He then added that the court was trying to impose a “foreign policy” on him by sentencing him.
Johnson filed several motions about a month prior to have his case dismissed on the premise that District Judge Bruce Pickett has no jurisdiction over Johnson.
Pickett said none of the motions compelled the court to hold a hearing prior to sentencing. He heard Johnson’s arguments on jurisdiction but denied that motion, noting that Johnson was born in Norfolk, Va., and pleaded guilty to committing a crime in Idaho.
“This is a fraudulent activity as well. This is fraudulent and this is human trafficking and treason … you’re not even a judge,” Johnson said. “This is not a courtroom, this is an unlawful venue. It is meant for commerce; I’m not commerce.”
The claim of lack of jurisdiction has been used numerous times by different groups under what is known as the “sovereign citizen movement.” It is a belief that individuals are not subject to government statute. The legal arguments claiming individuals are “sovereign” have been rejected by the courts.
Pickett said he would place Johnson in contempt of court several times after Johnson continually interrupted Pickett and Penny North Shaul, Bonneville County assistant chief deputy prosecutor.
North Shaul recommended Johnson serve four years of probation and no additional jail time. North Shaul said Johnson spent about five months in jail in this case.
Johnson’s attorney Daniel Taylor appeared briefly before the hearing began and told Pickett he was asked by his client to withdraw as his counsel.
“I’m not sure exactly what he wants me to argue. I don’t want to breach attorney-client privilege but I’m being asked to argue things that are inconsistent with the law,” Taylor said.
Before imposing the prison sentence Pickett offered to have Johnson be represented by an attorney. Johnson again declined.
Pickett said Johnson had two prior felony convictions and received probation on both sentences, successfully completing both terms.
“In making my final ruling on the court let me ask, Mr. Johnson, do you wish to be placed on probation?” Pickett said.
“So we’re not going to, you’re just going to disregard my nationality,” Johnson said.
“Alright, I’m going to take that as you will not comply,” Pickett said and imposed the prison term.