The Voluntary Nature of the Federal Income Tax System
Contention: The filing of a tax return is voluntary.
Some assert that they are not required to file federal tax returns because the filing of a tax return is voluntary. Proponents point to the fact that the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary. Additionally, the Supreme Court's opinion in Flora v. United States, 362 U.S. 145, 176 (1960), is often quoted for the proposition that "our system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment, not upon distraint."
The word "voluntary," as used in Flora and in IRS publications, refers to our system of allowing taxpayers to determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate returns, rather than have the government determine tax for them. The requirement to file an income tax return is not voluntary and is clearly set forth in Internal Revenue Code §§ 6011(a) , 6012(a) , et seq., and 6072(a). See also Treas. Reg. § 1.6011-1(a).
Any taxpayer who has received more than a statutorily determined amount of gross income is obligated to file a return. Failure to file a tax return could subject the noncomplying individual to criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment, as well as civil penalties. In United States v. Tedder, 787 F.2d 540, 542 (10 th Cir. 1986), the court clearly states, "although Treasury regulations establish voluntary compliance as the general method of income tax collection, Congress gave the Secretary of the Treasury the power to enforce the income tax laws through involuntary collection . . . . The IRS' efforts to obtain compliance with the tax laws are entirely proper."
Relevant Case Law:
Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391, 399 (1938) - The U.S. Supreme Court stated, "[i]n assessing income taxes, the Government relies primarily upon the disclosure by the taxpayer of the relevant facts . . . in his annual return. To ensure full and honest disclosure, to discourage fraudulent attempts to evade the tax, Congress imposes [either criminal or civil] sanctions."
United States v. Tedder, 787 F.2d 540, 542 (10 th Cir. 1986) - The court upheld a conviction for willfully failing to file a return, stating that the premise "that the tax system is somehow 'voluntary' . . . is incorrect."
United States v. Richards, 723 F.2d 646, 648 (8 th Cir. 1983) - The court upheld conviction and fines imposed for willfully failing to file tax returns, stating that the claim that filing a tax return is voluntary "was rejected in United States v. Drefke, 707 F.2d 978, 981 (8 th Cir. 1983), wherein the court described appellant's argument as "an imaginative argument, but totally without arguable merit."
Woods v. Commissioner, 91 T.C. 88, 90 (1988) - The court rejected the claim that reporting income taxes is strictly voluntary, referring to it as a "tax protester type" argument, and found Woods liable for the penalty for failure to file a return.
Johnson v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1999-312, 78 T.C.M. (CCH) 468, 471 (1999) - The court found Johnson liable for the failure to file penalty and rejected his argument "that the tax system is voluntary so that he cannot be forced to comply" as "frivolous."
Contention: Payment of tax is voluntary.
In a similar vein, some argue that they are not required to pay federal taxes because the payment of federal taxes is voluntary. Proponents of this position argue that our system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment.
The requirement to pay taxes is not voluntary and is clearly set forth in section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code, which imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts as determined by the tables set forth in that section. (Section 11 imposes a tax on the taxable income of corporations.) Furthermore, the obligation to pay tax is described in section 6151 , which requires taxpayers to submit payment with their tax returns. Failure to pay taxes could subject the noncomplying individual to criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment, as well as civil penalties.
In discussing section 6151, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals stated "when a tax return is required to be filed, the person so required 'shall' pay such taxes to the internal revenue officer with whom the return is filed at the fixed time and place. The sections of the Internal Revenue Code imposed a duty on Drefke to file tax returns and pay the . . . tax, a duty which he chose to ignore." United States v. Drefke, 707 F.2d 978, 981 (8 th Cir. 1983).
Relevant Case Law:
United States v. Bressler, 772 F.2d 287, 291 (7 th Cir. 1985) - The court upheld Bressler's conviction for tax evasion, noting, "[he] has refused to file income tax returns and pay the amounts due not because he misunderstands the law, but because he disagrees with it . . . . [O]ne who refuses to file income tax returns and pay the tax owing is subject to prosecution, even though the tax protester believes the laws requiring the filing of income tax returns and the payment of income tax are unconstitutional."
Schiff v. United States, 919 F.2d 830, 833 (2d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1238 (1991) - The court rejected Schiff's arguments as meritless and upheld imposition of the civil fraud penalty, stating "[t]he frivolous nature of this appeal is perhaps best illustrated by our conclusion that Schiff is precisely the sort of taxpayer upon whom a fraud penalty for failure to pay income taxes should be imposed."
Packard v. United States, 7 F. Supp. 2d 143, 145 (D. Conn. 1998) - The court dismissed Packard's refund suit for recovery of penalties for failure to pay income tax and failure to pay estimated taxes where the taxpayer contested the obligation to pay taxes on religious grounds, noting that "the ability of the Government to function could be impaired if persons could refuse to pay taxes because they disagreed with the Government's use of tax revenues."
United States v. Gerads, 999 F.2d 1255, 1256 (8 th Cir. 1993) - The court stated that "[taxpayers'] claim that payment of federal income tax is voluntary clearly lacks substance" and imposed sanctions in the amount of $1,500 "for bringing this frivolous appeal based on discredited, tax-protestor arguments."