Appeals court reverses sentence in 'sovereign citizen' traffic stop

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed in part the sentence of a Long Prairie man with apparent ties to the sovereign citizens movement. In an unpublished opinion filed Monday, the appeals court found the Cass County District Court erred in sent...


The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed in part the sentence of a Long Prairie man with apparent ties to the sovereign citizens movement.

In an unpublished opinion filed Monday, the appeals court found the Cass County District Court erred in sentencing David Lee Blanshan, who turned 58 today, on both a fourth-degree assault of a peace officer charge and an obstruction of the legal process charge. The appeals court remanded the matter back to the district court to vacate the sentence on the obstruction charge and enter an amended judgment.

The charges against Blanshan stemmed from a March 2015 incident, when a state trooper observed Blanshan, a front seat passenger, was not wearing a seat belt in a vehicle traveling on Highway 210 in Cass County. The trooper pulled the vehicle over and attempted to identify the driver and passenger.

Blanshan identified himself by first and middle name only, and interrupted the trooper several times asking for his name and badge number, according to the narrative provided by law enforcement. Blanshan also told the trooper several times, "I do not choose to loiter with you."

The trooper later testified during a jury trial he knew from several trainings the phrase was associated with the sovereign citizens movement.


According to the FBI, the sovereign citizens movement consists of individuals who are "anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or 'sovereign' from the United States. As a result, they believe they don't have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement."

Blanshan refused to leave the vehicle, and when a sheriff's deputy arrived to assist at the scene, the trooper attempted to pull Blanshan out of the vehicle with both hands. Blanshan resisted by swatting or blocking the trooper's arms and by kicking the trooper's legs. The trooper deployed a Taser on Blanshan's right leg, pulled him out of the vehicle and placed him under arrest.

During the struggle, a backpack fell out of the vehicle. Inside was a document titled, "Affidavit of reservation of rights," which bore Blanshan's name, signature and fingerprint. This document is known to be associated with individuals claiming sovereign citizenship.

At the jury trial, the trooper testified Blanshan's association with sovereign citizenship "heightened (his) sense of security."

"Through my training and experience, they are known to be potentially armed and dangerous," the trooper testified. "There's been numerous trainings I've attended where (it was said that) sovereign citizens have shot and killed police officers."

The jury found Blanshan guilty of fourth-degree assault of a peace officer, obstruction of the legal process and failure to wear a seat belt. The district court imposed a stayed sentence of 13 months on the assault charge and imposed fines on the other two charges.

In an appeal, Blanshan challenged the sufficiency of evidence to prove the assault and argued the court erred by not ruling on the admissibility of evidence of a prior conviction before he waived his right to testify. He also challenged the use of character evidence concerning the sovereign citizens movement accused the prosecutor of misconduct for referencing the movement in her closing statement. Blanshan argued he should not have been sentenced for both the assault and obstruction charges, because the offenses were part of "a single course of conduct."

The appeals court upheld the district court's actions in each of those points of appeal, but conceded Blanshan was correct in his interpretation of the sentencing.


"Blanshan contends that his assault of the trooper and his obstruction of legal process were part of a single course of conduct," the appeals court opinion stated. "The state agrees and concedes that the district court erred by sentencing Blanshan on both count(s)."

The appeals court did not agree with Blanshan using the same argument concerning the seat belt conviction, however.

"The evidentiary record shows that the seat belt offense did not occur at 'substantially the same time' and place as the assault offense and was not motivated by the same 'criminal objective,'" the appeals court opinion stated.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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