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Chicago mobster Al Capone went to prison for not paying his taxes. (FBI) Chicago mobster Al Capone went to prison for not paying his taxes. (FBI)

Chicago mobster Al Capone went to prison for not paying his taxes. (FBI)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 23, 2021

Paying taxes is not voluntary

If Your Time is short

  • Federal law spells out the circumstances when people owe taxes and says that they must pay them.

  • People who have challenged those laws by not paying taxes have ended up in prison.

A video on Facebook takes a hacksaw to the old line about death and taxes being the only certainties in life.

"Income taxes are voluntary," reads the headline in the July 20 post.

In the video itself, a moustachioed man with law books behind him says, "There is no law that makes the average citizen liable for the income tax."

"You will not see this story on any of the mainstream media — ABC, CBS, CNN, even Fox News is not going to cover this story," he says.

They won’t cover this for good reason. It has no legal substance, and bad things happen to people who test this theory and don’t pay up.

The claim that no law compels anyone to pay their taxes has been around for a long time. It’s so old hat, the IRS website includes a lengthy section debunking it on its page of "frivolous tax arguments."

"Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts," the IRS wrote.

That law is quite blunt.

It begins with "there is hereby imposed on the taxable income of," and then lists the kinds of filers — "every married individual," "every surviving spouse," "every head of a household," "every individual," and others who face taxes.

In Section 6151, the law takes the next step and says people who owe a tax "shall pay such tax."

Plenty of court rulings back this up.

One benchmark case is United States v. Drefke in 1983. Paul Drefke made about $40,000 in 1980 and didn’t file a tax return. He argued "that taxes are debts which can only be incurred voluntarily when individuals contract with the government for services."

The court called that "imaginative … but totally without arguable merit."

It went on to cite several sections of federal law, including the ones mentioned above, sections 1 and 6151.

"The sections of the Internal Revenue Code imposed a duty on Drefke to file tax returns and pay the appropriate rate of income tax, a duty which he chose to ignore," the ruling said.

Drefke was sentenced to two years in prison.

Drefke’s fate in 1983 apparently wasn’t enough to deter Irwin Schiff. In the early 2000s, Schiff and two partners were pitching a tax scheme based on the idea that paying federal taxes is voluntary. Schiff was sentenced to 12 years in prison and had to pay $4.2 million in restitution to the IRS.

The old saw about death and taxes holds. 

Our ruling

A video on Facebook said income taxes are voluntary.

Federal law and many court rulings says taxes are obligatory. People who have tested the law have ended up behind bars.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!


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Paying taxes is not voluntary

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