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Press Release

“Sovereign citizen” now behind federal prison bars for child pornography crimes

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

GALVESTON, Texas – A 57-year-old resident of Galveston who claimed the judicial system had no jurisdiction over him is headed to federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks Jr. found John David Knowlton guilty of receipt and possession of child pornography following a two-day bench trial that concluded June 18.  

Today, Judge Hanks ordered him to serve 144 and 120 months for the receipt and possession convictions, respectively. The sentences will run concurrently for a total 12-year-term of imprisonment. The court took into consideration victim impact statements and arguments detailing Knowlton’s extensive child pornography collection. In handing down the sentence, the court noted Knowlton’s military service and age, but also considered the seriousness of the offenses, the community and justice for the child victims. Knowlton will also serve 15 years on supervised release following completion of his prison term, during which time he will have to comply with numerous requirements designed to restrict his access to children and the internet. He will also be ordered to register as a sex offender.

During trial, the court heard testimony from multiple law enforcement officers and a Comcast custodian of records.

In February 2016, law enforcement conducted an online session using a publicly available peer-to-peer file-sharing network and located an IP address whose shared folder contained images of child pornography. The IP address was associated with Knowlton’s residence. 

When law enforcement searched his home, they discovered more than a dozen electronic devices belonging to him that contained child pornography. Forensic analysis found that 18 electronic devices contained thousands of images and hundreds of videos of child pornography. 

Knowlton had opted to represent himself at the trial with the court-appointed shadow defense counsel. Knowlton, identifying as a sovereign citizen, argued that the federal judicial system had no jurisdiction over him. The court was not persuaded by his arguments and found him guilty as charged.

Previously released on bond, Knowlton was taken into custody after the guilty verdict where has remained pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Pearland Police Department and Galveston Police Department’s - Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force conducted the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zahra Jivani Fenelon and Kimberly Leo prosecuted the case, which was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit For more information about internet safety education, please visit and click on the tab “resources.” 

information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit For more information about internet safety education, please visit and click on the tab “resources.” 

Updated December 16, 2019

Project Safe Childhood