Supreme Court to hear arguments from January 6 defendants

 April 14, 2024

Over the past three years, hundreds of people have been charged with obstruction of an official proceeding over their alleged role in the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.

However, the Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case which could see those charges reversed. 

Case concerns Enron-era law

At issue is 18 U.S. Code Section 1512(c), which criminalizes anyone who "alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding."

Also affected is any individual who "otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so."

Passed two decades ago following the Enron financial scandal, the legislation carries penalties of up to 20 years in federal prison.

Yet according to the Washington Post, lawyers for several January 6 defendants maintain that the law is being improperly applied.

Supreme Court has shown skepticism towards overzealous prosecutors

They say that the law can only be used to prosecute conduct which destroys or tampers with evidence being sought by investigators.

Roman Martinez is an attorney who previously served as a clerk under Chief Justice John Robert, and he told the Post that in recent years the Supreme Court has attempted to limit what it regards as overzealous application of criminal law.

"The strain that runs really deep in the court in the last 10 years is a concern about prosecutors over-prosecuting," Martinez told the Post.

"The court is very focused on ensuring that criminal statutes are not construed too broadly," the lawyer went on to explain.

Case could impact former President Donald Trump

Former Pennsylvania police officer Joseph W. Fischer is one of the defendants who is challenging his obstruction of an official proceeding charge, and his legal team laid out their arguments in a brief.

"The government suggests that the Court should twist Congress’s effort into the creation of an omnibus obstruction offense for prosecutors to use in future cases," the brief read.

"If there ever were a textual case in which judicial restraint is called for because Congress can broaden a statute to fit the government’s desired scope, this is that case," it added.

The Post observed that Tuesday's oral arguments will also be of interest to former President Donald Trump, who is facing one charge of obstruction of an official proceeding along with an additional charge of attempting to obstruct an official proceeding in his Washington D.C. criminal case.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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