Eric Thompson

Appeals Court Overturns Jan. 6 Defendant’s Sentence, Potentially Impacting 100+ Cases

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that potentially hundreds of defendants charged for their actions at the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot had their sentences improperly lengthened, raising the possibility that many will have to be resentenced.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Jan. 6 defendants who obstructed Congress‘s efforts to certify the 2020 election had their sentences improperly lengthened by federal judges who determined they had interfered with the “administration of justice.”


A video presentation plays as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final meeting on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit rejected the Justice Department’s argument in an appeal brought by Larry Brock, who was sentenced to two years in prison for obstructing congressional proceedings. U.S. District Judge John Bates, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, had determined Brock’s sentence by including the enhancement for interfering with the administration of justice.

“Brock’s interference with one stage of the electoral college vote-counting process — while no doubt endangering our democratic processes and temporarily derailing Congress’s constitutional work — did not interfere with the ‘administration of justice,’” D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett wrote in a unanimous ruling, joined by Judges Cornelia Pillard and Judith Rogers.

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The judges took into account the “multi-step” process of certifying Electoral College votes, finding that the vote counting was just one portion of an otherwise lengthy process to affirm the results of the 2020 election.

They effectively said that counting the votes in Congress that day did not meet the definition of “administration of justice,” and, therefore, anyone sentenced for participating in the riot should not face additional penalties for interfering with it.

Justice Department officials, along with the U.S. Probation Office, argued that the presence of Capitol Police and other security personnel in the Capitol complex that day added to their assertion that the session was about administering justice, though the three-judge panel disagreed.

It is unclear how many cases will be affected by the decision, though more than 330 defendants have been charged with obstruction under a statute known as Section 1512(c)(2). The Supreme Court in April is planning to weigh whether the obstruction charges were misapplied to Jan. 6 rioters more broadly in a case surrounding Joseph Fischer, a former police officer who briefly went inside the Capitol.

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William Shipley, an attorney who has represented several Jan. 6 defendants, including “Qanon Shaman” Jacob Chansley, told the Washington Examiner that the reverberations from the D.C. Circuit’s decision are “potentially huge.”

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“But it will be meaningless if the Supreme Court throws out 1512 in the Fischer case,” Shipley said, noting that the forthcoming case could potentially upend obstruction charges for every defendant sentenced under that statute for their actions on the day of the riot.

“Basically, if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fischer, what it’s saying is the statute doesn’t apply to the proceedings on Jan. 6, it wouldn’t apply to anybody,” Shipley said.

Because of the potentially wide scope of cases covered under the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, Shipley said, “You might see a flood of motions for release pending appeal” from defendants currently in prison whose sentencing included an enhancement for interfering with the administration of justice, noting that defendants would likely file such motions in an effort to avoid serving an over-extended sentence.

The Supreme Court is gearing up for oral arguments in Fischer’s case on April 16.

Trump himself is facing the exact same count in special counsel Jack Smith‘s case, which accuses the 2024 Republican presidential primary leader of conspiring to subvert the 2020 election after his loss. Trump, like other Jan. 6 defendants, is charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

Attorneys for the former president wrote in an October 2023 filing seeking to dismiss the case that Smith’s indictment inappropriately applied the statute in question to their client.

The “indictment takes a statute directed at the destruction of records in accounting fraud and applies it to disputing the outcome of a Presidential election,” the attorneys wrote. “This stretches the statutory language beyond any plausible mooring to its text.”

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NEW – U.S. federal agents arrest journalist Steve Baker in handcuffs for his reporting on January 6. Video:



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