Supreme Court Decision on Jan. 6 Cases: Potential Conviction Reversals Ahead

  • by:
  • Source: Wayne Dupree
  • 04/16/2024
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a very consequential lawsuit that might nullify the felony obstruction charges against over 300 persons associated with the Capitol assault of January 6, 2021, including the former President Donald Trump.

The question in Fischer v. United States is whether certain Jan. 6 offenders may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison under a federal statute that was passed in 2002 to stop the concealment of financial crimes.

In reaction to the Enron accounting crisis, Congress created the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which makes it illegal for anyone to "otherwise obstruct, influence or impede any official proceeding, or attempts to do so," as well as to destroy evidence, especially records or documents.

Having reportedly been a member of the mob that invaded the Capitol as Congress was trying to certify the results of the 2020 election, Joseph Fischer, a participant in the "Stop the Steal" event on January 6, faces prosecution.

Fischer's unlawful presence inside the Capitol building, according to the Justice Department, obstructed Congress's certification of the electoral vote count—an "official proceeding."

Despite not being named in the lawsuit, Fischer, a former Pennsylvania police officer, is contesting the same claim against Trump.

The DOJ has used the law to get guilty pleas or convictions for over 150 parties connected to the events on January 6.

Fischer contends that the government is using an unusually wide interpretation of the statute. According to him, the phrase "obstruction of an official proceeding" should only be used to the kinds of evidential and financial offenses that the legislation was designed to punish.

Judge Carl J. Nichols, a Trump appointment to the District of Columbia, concurred with Fischer and dropped the felony charges against him and five other accused rioters. A split panel of the Appeals Court then overturned that judgment in a 2-1 vote, bringing the charges back.

In all, the DOJ has been able to apply the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 14 out of the 15 federal courts who have presided over cases involving accused Capitol rioters accused of obstructing an official procedure.

Legal experts predict that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Fischer, it will not likely overturn the majority of Jan. 6 cases, which mostly involve violent felony charges or misdemeanor offenses like trespassing. However, it could call into question dozens of Jan. 6 prosecutions, potentially leading to some overturned convictions or reduced sentences.

However, this move would seriously jeopardize special counsel Jack Smith's attempts to prosecute Trump for allegedly trying to rig the 2020 election results. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is the subject of two of the four charges in the federal indictment against Trump, which also claim actual obstruction of an official action as well as conspiracy to obstruct.

The Supreme Court will determine this month whether or not Trump is completely shielded from criminal prosecution for his alleged involvement in election meddling in a different case. We anticipate hearings in both matters before the end of June.


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