Well, yes, there is a law that says you have to pay income tax

A while back there was a bit of a buzz going on about the acquittal of Tom Cryer, a Lousiana attorney who had been charged with the federal crime of failing to file his tax returns. Misleading articles, such as “IRS loses challenge to prove tax liability”, kindle hopes that someone somewhere has finally convinced a court that we don’t have to pay taxes.

A quick look at the Cryer case, however, demonstrates that the government failed to prove the “willful” element of the crime of failure to file. As with all elements of a crime, this must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury apparently decided that Mr. Cryer’s mental state was not criminally willful, perhaps because they were convinced that he had a reasonable belief that he didn’t have to file. But the legality of the tax law itself was not at issue in the trial. Cryer’s motion to dismiss using that argument was denied before the trial.

But tax protestors everywhere are cheering, shouting “show me the law!” In the interests of public service, I show the law below. It’s not as straigtforward as it could be, but it’s there. If you earn income, and if it is high enough, you have to file a return. If you have to file a return, you have to pay the tax. Plain language leading to plain duties.

Title 26 United States Code

§ 1. Tax imposed (a) Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses
There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of -
(1) every married individual (as defined in section 7703) who makes a single return jointly with his spouse under section 6013, and
(2) every surviving spouse (as defined in section 2(a)), a tax determined in accordance with the following table: If taxable income is: The tax is:
Not over $36,900 15% of taxable income.
Over $36,900 but not over $5,535, plus 28% of the excess over
$89,150 $36,900.
Over $89,150 but not over $20,165, plus 31% of the excess
$140,000 over $89,150.
Over $140,000 but not $35,928.50, plus 36% of the excess
over $250,000 over $140,000.
Over $250,000 $75,528.50, plus 39.6% of the
excess over $250,000.

. . . .

(c) Unmarried individuals (other than surviving spouses and heads
of households)
There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of every individual (other than a surviving spouse as defined in section 2(a) or the head of a household as defined in section 2(b)) who is not a married individual (as defined in section 7703) a tax determined in accordance with the following table:
If taxable income is: The tax is:
Not over $22,100 15% of taxable income.
Over $22,100 but not over $3,315, plus 28% of the excess over
$53,500 $22,100.
Over $53,500 but not over $12,107, plus 31% of the excess
$115,000 over $53,500.
Over $115,000 but not $31,172, plus 36% of the excess
over $250,000 over $115,000.
Over $250,000 $79,772, plus 39.6% of the excess
over $250,000.

Note, a tax is imposed on taxable income. Taxable income is figured out from gross income:

§ 61. Gross income defined
(a) General definition
Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, gross income means all income from whatever source derived, including (but not limited to) the following items:
(1) Compensation for services, including fees, commissions, fringe benefits, and similar items;
. . . .

§ 63. Taxable income defined
(a) In general
Except as provided in subsection (b), for purposes of this subtitle, the term “taxable income” means gross income minus the deductions allowed by this chapter (other than the standard deduction).
. . . .

So a tax is imposed on taxable income, who has to report this income? This statute tells us that everyone with gross income above a minimum amount has to file:

§ 6012. Persons required to make returns of income (a) General rule
Returns with respect to income taxes under subtitle A shall be made by the following:
(1)
(A) Every individual having for the taxable year gross income which equals or exceeds the exemption amount. . . .

And finally, some people demand to know where it says that a person with income is liable. The statute below says that if you have to file, you are required to pay whatever you owe as deteremined by properly filling out the return:

§ 6151. Time and place for paying tax shown on returns(a) General rule
Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, when a return of tax is required under this title or regulations, the person required to make such return shall, without assessment or notice and demand from the Secretary, pay such tax to the internal revenue officer with whom the return is filed, and shall pay such tax at the time and place fixed for filing the return (determined without regard to any extension of time for filing the return).

The law is there. There is no magic formula for wishing it away. It says people with income over a certain level (which elsewhere is defined as being over the exemption amounts) have to file their return. If their return indicates taxable income, they have to pay.

So be careful out there. People claiming that there is no law requiring you to pay income tax are either deliberatly not looking or they are deceived.

And, even though Mr. Cryer was found not guilty of a tax crime, I am pretty sure the feds will get their money. Plus interest. Plus penalties. It’s not a pleasant scenario.