Some January 6th defendants win early release ahead of Supreme Court case that could impact Trump

 April 12, 2024

Some January 6th defendants have won early release from prison ahead of a blockbuster Supreme Court decision that could impact hundreds of convictions for "obstruction of an official proceeding," and even Donald Trump's January 6th case. 

The Supreme Court will weigh arguments Tuesday in Fischer v. United States, which centers on the scope of a 20-year-old obstruction law that the Justice Department has used to prosecute some 350 individuals involved in January 6th.

Defendant Carl Fischer argues that the law, which was enacted after the Enron scandal, only applies to conduct like evidence tampering.

January 6thers win release

For over 100 January 6th defendants, the obstruction count is the only felony crime they are facing. The DOJ's sweeping use of the law has raised concerns about free speech and overcharging of trespassers.

In anticipation of the Supreme Court's arguments Tuesday, a handful of defendants have been released, the Washington Post reported.

“Judges said they were acting because the high-court review significantly raised the possibility the felony convictions might be overturned,” the Washington Post wrote.

A district court judge, Carl Nichols, sided with Fischer before an appeals court reversed.

A Biden judge on the D.C. Appeals Court, Florence Pan, acknowledged that the January 6th prosecutions represent an unprecedented use of the obstruction law, but she found it was meant to be broad.

A dissenting judge, Gregory Katsas, called the DOJ's interpretation of the law's scope "both improbably broad and unconstitutional in many of its applications.”

Implications for Trump

One of the key statutory disagreements is on the word "otherwise" and whether it limits or expands the types of conduct covered by the law.

U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) applies to a person who "otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so." The preceding section refers to the destruction of evidence.

The Biden administration's Solicitor General, Elizabeth Prelogar, has said the law covers "unanticipated methods of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding" such as a riot "to disrupt the joint session of Congress certifying the presidential election results."

The obstruction law also forms the basis of half of Jack Smith's January 6th case against Trump, which is on hold pending the Supreme Court's decision in a separate matter on Trump's immunity claim.

Smith claimed in a filing this week that the obstruction charges against Trump would not be affected even if the Supreme Court ruled for Fischer.

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