Saturday 29 June 2024

Supreme Court Rules DOJ Overstepped In Charging Hundreds Of January 6 Defendants With Obstruction

 The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the Justice Department went too far in slapping obstruction charges on hundreds of January 6 defendants.

The court voted 6-3 in favor of defendant Joseph Fischer, a former police officer seeking to dismiss his charge of obstructing an official proceeding, Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

However, the court ruled that an obstruction charge may be filed if prosecutors are able to prove that a protester was trying to stop the arrival of certificates used to count electoral votes to certify the election results, not just force their way into the Capitol Building.

The decision could have implications for former President Donald Trump, who is also charged with obstruction, although special counsel Jack Smith has argued that Trump’s obstruction of Congress’ certification was much broader than the protesters’ actions.

It could also force prosecutors to reopen at least some of the January 6 cases.

The court determined that the law designating obstruction as a felony was not meant to be interpreted so broadly. The 2002 statute, enacted as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act after the Enron accounting scandal, was only meant to apply in cases involving tampering with physical evidence, the court ruled.

Chief Justice John Roberts penned the opinion for the majority.

He noted that the “breach of the Capitol delayed the certification of the vote” but said the law never intended for these defendants to be sentenced to decades in prison.

“Nothing in the text or statutory history suggests that [the law] is designed to impose up to 20 years’ imprisonment on essentially all defendants who commit obstruction of justice in any way and who might be subject to lesser penalties under more specific obstruction statutes,” Roberts wrote.

Fischer faces a total of seven criminal charges, including assaulting a police officer and entering a restricted building, beyond the obstruction charge.

“The Supreme Court’s narrowed definition of this statute is a victory against government overreach when it comes to applying vague criminal statutes to defendants and situations never intended by Congress. It is more than clear that what happened on January 6th did not involve document destruction or witness tampering—as the statute indicates,” said John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor who is vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government.


Attorney General Merrick Garland reacted to the court’s ruling with dismay, saying he was “disappointed by today’s decision, which limits an important federal statute that the Department has sought to use to ensure that those most responsible for that attack face appropriate consequences.”

A total of 247 January 6 cases could be affected by the court’s ruling in favor of Fischer, but only 52 of those have obstruction as the only felony offense.

A total of 27 defendants are currently in prison with obstruction as their only felony offense.

More than 1,400 people were charged for their actions on January 6.

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