Can I be charged with a crime by not filing?

DWQA QuestionsCategory: Income TaxCan I be charged with a crime by not filing?
Dan B asked 2 months ago
I have heard that people can go to jail if they fail to file their return.
1 Answers
dab Staff answered 2 months ago

The short answer is no, but there is one exception. There is a crime called "willful failure to file", which is punishable by fine and imprisonment, but this only applies to corporations. The law is located in 26 USC Subtitle F, Chapter 75, but as with the rest of the tax code this can be very confusing.

26 U.S. Code § 7203 - Willful failure to file return, supply information, or pay tax: Any person required under this title to pay any estimated tax or tax, or required by this title or by regulations made under authority thereof to make a return, keep any records, or supply any information, who willfully fails to pay such estimated tax or tax, make such return, keep such records, or supply such information, at the time or times required by law or regulations, shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $25,000 ($100,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both, together with the costs of prosecution. In the case of any person with respect to whom there is a failure to pay any estimated tax, this section shall not apply to such person with respect to such failure if there is no addition to tax under section 6654 or 6655 with respect to such failure. In the case of a willful violation of any provision of section 6050I, the first sentence of this section shall be applied by substituting “felony” for “misdemeanor” and “5 years” for “1 year”.

The first two words of this code say "any person", but this is misleading. We can see in section 7343, which is also in chapter 75, that the person they are talking about has a very specific definition.

26 U.S. Code § 7343 - Definition of term “person” The term “person” as used in this chapter includes an officer or employee of a corporation, or a member or employee of a partnership, who as such officer, employee, or member is under a duty to perform the act in respect of which the violation occurs.

We can compare this to the definition of a person in Chapter 79, section 7701, which applies mostly to the rest of the title:

(a)When used in this title, where not otherwise distinctly expressed or manifestly incompatible with the intent thereof— (1)Person - The term “person” shall be construed to mean and include an individual, a trust, estate, partnership, association, company or corporation.

The reason for this difference is that the constitution was designed to create a republic where the people would be free. In order for something to be constitutional, the laws have to adhere to that. The income tax is only legal as an excise. The protections of limited liability and legal recognition are a privilege granted by the government, giving it extra capacity to govern and tax that can not be applied to individuals.