Supreme Court Weighs Obstruction Charges Against Jan. 6 Rioters

The Supreme Court is hearing a case that could dismiss obstruction charges against Capitol rioters, including Trump, with significant implications for ongoing federal prosecutions. The Court's ruling could impact the use of the obstruction charge in January 6 cases.

Bijay Laxmi
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Supreme Court Weighs Obstruction Charges Against Jan. 6 Rioters

Supreme Court Weighs Obstruction Charges Against Jan. 6 Rioters

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that could potentially dismiss charges against hundreds of individuals, including former President Donald Trump, related to the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot. The case, Fischer v. United States, focuses on obstruction charges brought under a statute enacted in 2002 in response to the Enron scandal, which criminalizes attempts to obstruct official proceedings.

The defendants argue the statute should be narrowly interpreted to apply only to financial crimes, while the government advocates for a broader interpretation to encompass various forms of obstruction. Conservative justices expressed concern that the provision could be used to prosecute smaller acts of protest, while liberal justices argued Congress intended the charge to cover any gaps that could be exploited.

Why this matters: The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the ongoing federal prosecution of the Capitol riot participants. It could potentially upend convictions for a mass of defendants and slash some election interference charges against former President Donald Trump.

The obstruction charge is among the most widely used felony charges in the Capitol riot prosecutions, with roughly 170 defendants convicted of obstructing or conspiring to obstruct the joint session of Congress. While the Court has not yet issued a decision, the case has already led to the release of some defendants who were serving prison sentences due to the obstruction law.

However, even if the Court reverses the ruling, it would not affect the majority of defendants who were also charged with other misdemeanor or felony crimes. Some judges have signaled they would increase sentences on those other charges to compensate. The Court's ruling, expected by late June, could make it harder, but not impossible, for prosecutors to use the obstruction charge in the January 6 cases.

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Court hears case that could dismiss charges against Jan 6 rioters
  • Case focuses on obstruction charges under 2002 law meant for financial crimes
  • Outcome could impact convictions of ~170 defendants charged with obstruction
  • Even if overturned, most defendants still face other charges, with increased sentences
  • Court's ruling, expected by June, could make obstruction charges harder, not impossible