Supreme Court rules against Jan. 6 riot obstruction charges

By Mike Wendling, BBC News

Reuters Trump in dark coat next to flag behind plexiglassReuters

Trump spoke to rioters before they marched to the Capitol

Federal prosecutors overstepped their bounds by using an obstruction law to charge hundreds of Jan. 6 rioters, the Supreme Court ruled in an opinion that could affect a case against Donald Trump.

The judges ruled that obstruction charges must include evidence that the defendants attempted to alter or destroy documents.

More than 350 people have been charged with obstructing the business of Congress: the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The law prosecutors used was passed in 2002, after the Enron scandal, to stop corporate misconduct.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act establishes criminal penalties for anyone who “alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object,” and another clause includes anyone who “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding.”

Justice Department prosecutors argued for a broad interpretation of the law to include those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to keep Trump in the White House.

But in a 6-3 opinion that bucked the Supreme Court’s usual ideological lines, the court ruled that the law should be interpreted relatively narrowly and used only against defendants who altered documents.

How will the decision affect the Trump case?

The ruling has been applauded by Donald Trump’s supporters.

While the court introduced another novelty in the special prosecution of the former president – and the Supreme Court could decide In a separate case that is expected to occur next week. who has immunity for his actions; it is unclear whether the decision will stop one of the charges against him.

“I think there will be litigation against Trump,” said Aziz Huq, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

“But the charges against him involve falsifying or altering ‘records, documents or objects,’ so I think he’s unlikely to disprove those charges.”

In addition, special prosecutor Jack Smith has also accused Trump with other crimes related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 result: conspiring to defraud the U.S. and conspiring against the rights of citizens.

These charges will move forward regardless of the outcome of the obstruction case.

The special counsel faces a glaring deadline. If Trump wins the November election, he will be able to remove Smith from office and end the federal legal case.

Joseph Fischer of the U.S. Department of Justice stands in front of police inside the Capitol on January 6, 2021.United States Department of Justice

Joseph Fischer (center, holding phone) briefly entered the Capitol and encountered police officers on January 6, 2021.

What about the other defendants of January 6?

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was one of several laws used against those who stormed the Capitol in January 2021.

About 25% of those charged in the Capitol riot were prosecuted under the law, and all faced additional charges, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“The vast majority of the more than 1,400 defendants charged for their unlawful actions on January 6 will not be affected by this decision,” Garland said in a statement issued after the ruling in which he also noted he was disappointed with the ruling.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Joseph Fischer, a former Pennsylvania police officer who attended Trump’s rally in Washington on January 6, 2021 and then briefly entered the Capitol.

He was seen arguing with police on video before leaving the building.

Lower courts will now decide whether the obstruction charge can continue. However, Fischer also faces trial on other charges, including civil disorder, disorderly conduct and assaulting, resisting or impeding a police officer.

More than 1,400 people have been charged with crimes related to the riots.

According to Justice Department figures, more than 500 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, including more than 130 who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing bodily injury. seriously to a police officer.

And more than 1,300 people have been charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds. More than 100 of them have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

With additional reporting by Kayla Epstein

Reuters An exterior view of the Capitol riot showing protesters storming the building.Reuters

Pro-Trump protesters storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021

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