The Supreme Court casts doubt on obstruction charges against hundreds of January 6 rioters

FILE - Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump storm the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021. Ronald Sandlin, a Tennessee man who says authorities came to Washington ahead of the January 6, 2021 riot, ready for violence in a car full of weapons and battered officers who tried to defend the Capitol has been sentenced to more than five years behind bars.  (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

(John Minchillo/Associated Press)

The Supreme Court casts doubt on obstruction charges against hundreds of January 6 rioters

David G Savage

April 16, 2024

The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the legality of obstruction charges filed against approximately 300 rioters arrested for breaking into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The court’s conservatives questioned whether the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which targeted corporate accounting fraud, could be used more broadly to prosecute those who obstruct “any official proceeding,” including Congress’s 2021 certification of President Biden’s election victory.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch noted that the law makes it a crime to destroy or conceal documents to harm a “public servant.”

al procedure,” but they expressed doubts about its extension to any disr

possibilities of a procedure.

“If someone ‘pulls a fire alarm’ to delay a vote in Congress, is that a federal crime punishable by 20 years in prison?” Gorsuch asked.

Although the justices sounded divided, most conservatives suggested they were skeptical about upholding the obstruction charges.

Such a ruling would deal a blow to the January 6 prosecutions, but would not prevent them from being punished for their actions.

More than 1,200 rioters were arrested over the January 6 breach of the Capitol.

Most were charged with assaulting officers on duty or with disorderly and disruptive behavior. Some were also accused of carrying dangerous or deadly weapons.

A few hundred were also accused of attempting to obstruct official proceedings.

One of them was

Joseph Fischer, an off-duty Pennsylvania police officer who said on social media that he expected the attack on the Capitol “could become violent” but that it was necessary “to send a message that we, the people , hold the real power’.

When Fischer was arrested, he was charged with six counts of assault and disruption, as well as a seventh count of obstruction, a charge that could land him in prison for several years.

A federal judge dismissed the obstruction charge, but the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated it in a 2-1 decision.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard an appeal from Fischer’s public defender, in which he argued that the obstruction charge should be dismissed on the grounds that the law

on the agenda

only protects documents and evidence, not the procedure itself.

The law in question contains a sentence with two clauses. At issue is how two clauses in the law should be interpreted. It

states that it is an offense for someone who “corruptly alters, destroys, mutilates or conceals, or attempts to do so, any record, document or other object with intent to damage the integrity of the object or its availability for use in an official interfere with proceedings; or otherwise obstructs, interferes with or impedes any official proceeding or attempts thereto.”

Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar said the Jan. 6 rioters intended to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes that would confirm victory in the 2020 election.

This was “obstructive conduct” and it is exactly what the law says, she argued.

But the Chief Justice disagreed. The obstruction clause “does not stand alone,” he said. It is checked by the previous reference to documents and records, he said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles