Monday, February 4, 2008

Wesley Snipes and Richard Hatch

By now, many news websites and blogs across the internet have discussed the near accquittal of Wesley Snipes. For clarity, Wesley Snipes was not vindicated. He was convicted of 3 counts of misdemeanor failure to file. By any account, however, he managed to avoid some potentially severe consequences upon his acquittal on the more serious tax evasion felonies.

It will be interesting to see how Mr. Snipes is sentenced for the 3 misdemeanor convictions. It will also be interesting to see how the civil tax liability is resolved. Importantly, the reported defense that he was to use in the criminal trial was that "he didn't know he had to pay taxes" it was not that "he didn't have to pay taxes." As such, he may be facing down a tremendous tax debt in the coming years.

On a similar note, the same day that Wesley Snipes was partially acquitted, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision in the Richard Hatch (CBS Survivor reality show winner) case. You may remember that Richard Hatch had argued that he thought someone else had paid the tax he owed on his Survivor winnings. Mr. Hatch's appeal contrasts the result in the Wesley Snipes case. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Mr. Hatch's argument that the government had deprived him of certain rights and his criminal conviction (including the sentence) was affirmed.

Neither the Wesley Snipes case nor the Richard Hatch case says that people don't have to pay taxes. In fact, the cases suggest that you must obey the tax laws. The only thing to take from Wesley Snipes' accquittal from the tax evasion charges is this: based on the specific facts and circumstances presented to the jury, the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wesley Snipes committed tax evasion.

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