"a 1787 treaty with Morocco exempts them from American laws"

Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said his office has seen a number of "crazy stories" in which defendants try some variation on the idea that courts are powerless over them. Some claim to be representatives of the Pope. Others quibble with their names being spelled in capital letters in court records.

The arguments can be frustrating to prosecutors, Rosenstein said, but rarely do more than slow proceedings down.

"It's sort of a desperation move," he said, and it's most often employed by defendants who have no chance of putting up a legitimate defense.

The notion that claims of Moorish-American heritage can help defendants evade prosecution circulates in the Baltimore City Detention Center, according to Romeo Joyner-El, who worked for the corrections department from 1985 until 2006. People are drawn to the temple because it offers a support network, he said, but some go astray.

Joyner-El, himself a founder of a Moorish-American temple in Rosedale, said inmates would sometimes ask him about the organization's doctrines as their trials approached. He said he tried to steer them away from arguing against the legitimacy of the courts.

Read More | "Growing number of Moorish Americans try to evade prosecution" | Ian Duncan | The Baltimore Sun