HomePoliticsThe US Supreme Court hears rioters' obstruction case, with implications for Trump

The US Supreme Court hears rioters’ obstruction case, with implications for Trump

By John Kruzel and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider a Pennsylvania man’s bid to avoid an obstruction charge in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol – a case with potential implications for federal prosecution of Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

The justices will hear arguments in Joseph Fischer’s appeal of a lower court ruling rejecting his attempt to escape a federal charge of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding — the congressional certification of President Joe Biden‘s victory over Trump that the rioters tried to prevent. The arguments are set to 10am ET (2pm GMT).

Trump faces the same charges in a criminal case brought against him last year by the special counsel Jac Smith.

Fischer’s attorneys have argued for a limited application of the obstruction charge, only against suspects who tampered with evidence. A Supreme Court ruling dismissing the charges against Fischer could make it more complicated — but not impossible — to bring charges against Trump, experts say.

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The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, although Jan. 6 defendants convicted of obstruction received much lower sentences. Federal prosecutors have filed obstruction charges against about 350 of the roughly 1,400 people charged in the attack on the Capitol.

The Supreme Court next week faces another major case involving Trump, the Republican candidate challenging the Democratic president in the November 5 US elections in a 2020 rematch. The justices will hear arguments on April 25 on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from prosecution in the election subversion case brought against him by Smith.

Fischer is awaiting trial on six other crimes, including assaulting or obstructing officers and civil disorder, while he fights his obstruction charge in the Supreme Court.

During the attack, prosecutors say Fischer attacked police officers guarding the entrance to the Capitol. Fischer, then a member of the North Cornwall Township Police Department in Pennsylvania, stepped inside and pressed against an officer’s riot shield as police attempted to clear rioters. He stayed in the building for four minutes before police pushed him out.

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U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, dismissed Fischer’s obstruction charge, ruling that it only applies to defendants who tampered with evidence. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that decision, holding that the law under which the complaint was filed was not limited to documents and records but instead applied “to all forms of corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding”.

After the 2020 election, Trump and his allies made false claims that it had been stolen from him through widespread voter fraud. On the day Congress convened to certify Biden’s victory, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, breaking through barricades, attacking police officers, vandalizing the building and forcing lawmakers and others to flee for safety.

In August 2023, Smith filed four federal charges against Trump: conspiracy to defraud the United States, corruptly obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy to do so, and conspiracy against Americans’ right to vote. Smith has separately sued Trump in a case involving the retention of classified documents after he left office.

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Trump also faces two other criminal charges. He has pleaded not guilty in all cases and called them politically motivated.

(Reporting by John Kruzel and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

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