Each household in the United States is issued a census form by the government every year. It consists of questionnaires about household income and pries into personal information. The census is also used to calculate the United States population.
Of course the envelopes that are issued to American households are clearly marked with “Your response is required by law”. But can you refuse to answer the United States Census request? It says that it’s the law, but have you ever actually heard of this law, or known anyone that was prosecuted for something as simple as refusing the United States Census?
What Happens if I Don’t Respond to the United States Census?
Of course the Census Bureau stress the absolute importance and the benefits of answering their census call. But what if you refuse the census?
According to Federal Law, it’s possible to be fined up to $100 just by refusing to complete the census form. But it gets worse, if you answer any questions falsely, you can be fined up to $500. And at one point, if you weren’t in compliance with the United States Census you could even receive a sixty-day prison sentence. Then for false answers you would be looking at a one year sentence. Luckily those harsh judgments are no longer possible thanks to Congress removing the provisions in 1976.
Prosecutions for non-compliance with the United States Census are not very common, but they do occasionally happen. Let’s talk about a man named William Rickenbacker for just a moment. He was a resident of Briarcliff Manor in New York back in 1960. Well….He decided that he was going to answer the basic questionnaire, but when he got to the questions concerning the economic standing of his household, he thought enough was enough. He felt it was an invasion of privacy so he refused to answer that portion.
For this split second decision on Rickenbacker’s part, the Federal Government decided to make an example of him and prosecuted. A federal judge wound up fining him $100 as well as giving him a sixty-day suspended prison sentence. It was quite obvious that he was in non-compliance due to the fact he answered some of the questions, but then stopped.
How would the Government Know?
So the question arises, what if I just didn’t answer any of the questionnaire and failed to return any of the United States Census? Well that’s simple… When ever a household fails to turn in the census form, the Census Bureau will send workers to your home to seek physical contact with the household. They’ve been known to come back up to six times in attempts to make contact. If all these attempts to reach someone in the household are unsuccessful, then the government will consider you in non-compliance and will refer the case to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Is Every Prosecution Successful?
Of course with any type of criminal case there are some wins and some loses for both parties. This being the case, it’s safe to assume that not all cases that are brought to prosecution are successful. William Steele of Hawaii actually successfully appealed a conviction case for not fully answering his questionnaire. This was during the 1970 census and he managed to have his sentence and $50 fine both overturned.
His defense was that he was being singled out for prosecution simply because he had been a part of a public protest against the census. Amazingly the appeals court found this explanation logical thus overturning his conviction!
So I guess if there’s any lesson to be learned here it’s pretty cut and dry. Answer the United States Census questionnaire in full and return it to the Census Bureau promptly. The law of being prosecuted for non-compliance sounds pretty cheesie, but it does happen. No one really wants to get tangled up in a government battle, so do yourself a favor, take care of business…
Have you or anyone you know refused the United States Census and avoided prosecution? Or just let me know how you feel about all this and how it relates to the privacy of the American household…