HomeTop StoriesSome sentences of January 6 were wrongly tightened, the appeal court ruled

Some sentences of January 6 were wrongly tightened, the appeal court ruled

A federal appeals court panel ruled Friday that defendants who obstructed the work of Congress on Jan. 6 had their sentences improperly extended by judges who found they had interfered with the “administration of justice.”

The decision could force district court judges in Washington, D.C., to recalculate and perhaps reduce sentences for a slew of Jan. 6 rioters convicted of felony obstruction for their role in the attack on the Capitol that halted the transition of power three years ago endangered. .

Federal sentencing guidelines encourage judges to apply the “administration of justice” enhancement to defendants who disrupt legal proceedings, such as grand jury investigations or court hearings. The enhancement could increase the recommended sentences by more than a year.

The Justice Department has routinely asked judges to apply the enhancement to defendants who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, arguing that the session of Congress that day — intended to count electoral votes and determine the outcome of the 2020 election to be determined – should be regarded as equivalent. of legal proceedings.

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A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument in an appeal filed by Larry Brock, a Jan. 6 defendant who was sentenced last year to two years in prison for obstructing Congress’ proceedings. U.S. District Judge John Bates – appointed by George W. Bush – calculated Brock’s sentence by including the increase for interference with the “administration of justice.”

Brock was one of the first rioters to breach the Capitol, wearing military gear and storming the Senate floor with the crowd. The appeals court panel upheld Brock’s misdemeanor conviction for his action, but ordered Bates to resentence him without any enhancement.

“Brock’s interference in one phase of the Electoral College vote-counting process — while it undoubtedly compromised our democratic processes and temporarily derailed the constitutional work of Congress — did not disrupt the ‘administration of justice,’” Justice Patricia Millett wrote in a unanimous ruling. by Judges Cornelia Pillard and Judith Rogers.

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Millett and Pillard were appointed by Obama, while Rogers was appointed by Clinton.

The ruling was in many respects a technical analysis of the meaning of government functions that could be classified as ‘judicial’. Congress’ counting of electoral votes, the justices concluded, was just one part of a lengthy process to certify the results of a presidential election.

“Overall, the multi-step process of certifying Electoral College votes – as important as it is to our democratic system of government – ​​bears little resemblance to the traditional understanding of the administration of justice as the judicial or quasi-judicial inquiry or determination of individual rights,” the panel concluded.

Prosecutors had argued that the presence of Capitol Police and other security officials to protect congressional proceedings that day strengthened their claim that the hearing was about justice. But again, the judges disagreed.

“To the extent that law enforcement is present, it is there to protect lawmakers and their process, not to investigate the rights of individuals or to enforce Congress’s certification act,” Millett wrote. “After all, law enforcement is present for security reasons for a wide range of government proceedings that do not involve the ‘administration of justice’ – presidential inaugurations, for example, and the Thanksgiving Turkey pardon.”

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Justice Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is unclear how many cases will be affected by the panel’s ruling. But it comes as the Supreme Court prepares to weigh whether obstruction charges apply more broadly to Jan. 6 rioters.

Some defendants have argued that the obstruction law that prosecutors relied on — a post-Enron statute aimed at criminalizing attempts to shred documents or damage evidence used in government proceedings — was improperly used to charge Jan. 6 rioters of crimes. The justices will hear arguments on the case in April, and their decision would impact not only dozens of rioters convicted of the crime, but also Donald Trump, who also faces two charges of obstruction in Washington, DC.

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