Court’s Ruling Would Reduce Sentences for Some Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrectionists

March 5, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Court’s Ruling Would Reduce Sentences for Some Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrectionists

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is trying to decide whether to appeal a federal judge’s ruling Friday that would free about 100 of the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters at the Capitol earlier than anticipated.

They were sentenced to prison with an “enhancement” for interfering with the administration of justice.

The court’s ruling said interference with the political process was not the same as interfering with the administration of justice. As a result, their sentences are likely to be reduced.

In previous cases, the “administration of justice” normally referred to disrupting court proceedings, such as hearings or grand jury investigations. The disruptions give judges an option of tacking on more than a year to criminal defendants’ jail time.

Justice Department attorneys argued congressional certification of the electoral college vote on Jan. 6, 2021, was the equivalent of a judicial proceeding.

Initially, federal judges in Washington, D.C., who imposed sentences on the rioters agreed, often “enhancing” their jail time by months. Their authority for the longer sentences ended Friday with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

The legal challenge to the enhanced sentences came from Larry Brock, a Jan. 6 defendant who was serving a two-year prison sentence for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Brock, 55, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Grapevine, Texas, was convicted on a felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding. He entered the Senate chamber wearing military gear and looked through papers on senators’ desks.

Part of the evidence against him was drawn from his actions leading up to the insurrection.

Days before he traveled to Washington, Brock posted what prosecutors described as threatening messages on social media.

One message, dated Dec. 27, 2020, said, “I prefer insurrection at this point.” A second message, on Jan. 5, said that “our second American Revolution begins in less than two days.”

His conviction normally would have brought him an 18-month sentence, according to court records. The enhancement for interfering with the administration of justice resulted in an additional six months.

“As for Brock’s sentence, we hold that the ‘administration of justice’ enhancement does not apply to interference with the legislative process of certifying electoral votes,” the three-judge panel from the Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its 37-page ruling.

The appellate court agreed the conviction was justified but not the trial court’s interpretation of a judicial proceeding.

“Taken as a whole, the multi-step process of certifying electoral college votes — as important to our democratic system of government as it is — bears little resemblance to the traditional understanding of the administration of justice as the judicial or quasi-judicial investigation or determination of individual rights,” the panel concluded.

Justice Department attorneys had argued that the presence of police trying to maintain order in the Capitol was the same as administration of justice.

The ruling written by Judge Patricia Millett said, “To the extent that law enforcement is present, it is there to protect the lawmakers and their process, not to investigate individuals’ rights or to enforce Congress’ certification decision. After all, law enforcement is present for security purposes for a broad variety of governmental proceedings that do not involve the ‘administration of justice’ — presidential inaugurations, for example, and the pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.”

If the Justice Department appeals, the case would go to the full 11-judge appeals court or possibly to the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department also is dealing with an appeal by Jan. 6 defendants convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding. They argue that they were political protesters who should not be criminally prosecuted. Former President Donald Trump is one of the defendants charged with the crime.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the appeal next month.

More than 1,000 people from across the United States have been arrested since the attack on the Capitol. About 320 were charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. The FBI continues to investigate.

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