SCOTUS Hears Arguments in Jan 6h Case

Five of the Nine Supreme Court Justices appeared Skeptical of the Government's use of the "Obstruction of an Official Proceeding" Law against January 6th Political Prisoners during today's Agruments


by Matthew Vandum, The Epoch Times, April 16, 2024
 

Conservative Supreme Court justices seemed generally sympathetic on April 16 to a former police officer charged under an accounting reform law after he entered the U.S. Capitol for four minutes on Jan. 6, 2021.

The case is being closely watched because once the Supreme Court rules, its decision could affect hundreds of Jan. 6 prosecutions, including the Jan. 6-related case against former President Donald Trump. The Courts Decision will be announced in July.

Joseph Fischer, from Jonestown, Pennsylvania, was indicted on several counts following the Capitol breach on Jan. 6, 2021, including obstructing an official proceeding under Enron-era obstruction law 18 U.S. Code Section 1512(c). Convictions under the section can lead to 20 years in prison.

Legal experts, including Mr. Fischer’s defense counsel, have criticized the Biden administration for prosecuting defendants, including President Trump, under the law, arguing it is an inappropriate vehicle for the prosecutions.

Lawyers argue that the accounting reform law under which Mr. Fischer and others have been charged is being used by the Department of Justice to prosecute people who were exercising their First Amendment right to protest the congressional certification of election results.

During oral arguments on April 16, Mr. Fischer’s attorney Jeffrey Green said the Biden administration was wrong to charge his client under 1512(c), which was intended to be used for evidence tampering only.

Congress passed the statute to prevent the destruction of evidence, he said.

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“The January 6 prosecutions demonstrate that there are a host of felony and misdemeanor crimes that cover the alleged conduct,” the lawyer said.

“A Sarbanes-Oxley-based Enron-driven evidence tampering statute is not one of them.”

Until the Jan. 6 prosecutions, 1512(c) had never been used for anything other than evidence tampering, he said.

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said 1512(c) is not a narrow legal provision.

The provision “by its terms is not limited to evidence impairment. Instead, it’s a classic catch-all” with regard to obstruction, she said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch asked if pulling a fire alarm to halt a proceeding would subject the offender to a 20-year prison term.

Ms. Prelogar said it might but that the government would have to have proof of criminal intent.

Justice Samuel Alito asked if protesters obstructing a trial would violate the statute.

“For all the protests that have occurred in this court, the Justice Department has not charged any serious offenses, and I don’t think any one of those protesters has been sentenced to even one day in prison. But why isn’t that a violation of 1512(c)(2)?” he asked.

Ms. Prelogar replied, “There would be the backstop of needing to prove corrupt intent.”

Justice Alito asked whether protestors blocking roads and bridges around the nation’s capital, as happened on April 15 when pro-Palestinian protesters shut down the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, would violate the statute.

Ms. Prelogar said she did not believe that would violate the statute.

She also said Mr. Fischer went to the Capitol intending to prevent Congress from conducting business.

“He had said in advance of January 6 that he was prepared to storm the Capitol [and was] prepared to use violence. He wanted to intimidate Congress. He said, ‘They can’t vote if they can’t breathe,’” she said.

At the Capitol, he allegedly assaulted a law enforcement officer, and that action impeded the ability of police to regain control and let Congress do its job, she said.

“It is entirely appropriate for the government to seek to hold petitioner accountable for that conduct with that intent,” Ms. Prelogar said.

In a recent brief, Mr. Fischer’s attorneys denied he committed acts of violence on Jan. 6, 2021, and said he was instead a victim of violence. They said that he was knocked to the ground by a crowd surge and that contrary to government claims that he was forcibly removed from the complex, he walked out on his own.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked if the protesters could have been charged under the section even if they had not breached the Capitol.

If they had remained outside “but their goal was to impede, chanting things like ‘stop the steal,’ getting too close, and ignoring police’s calls to disperse, would that still violate the statute?” the justice asked.

Ms. Prelogar said if that had happened when Congress had to go into recess from a joint session because of a security risk, then it “probably would be chargeable” if there was evidence of criminal intent.
 

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