KOMMONSENTSJANE – JUDGE TOSSES OBSTRUCTION CHARGE AGAINST JAN 6 DEFENDANT.

Judge calls out DOJ’s handling of Jan. 6 prosecutions


POLITICO
Judge tosses obstruction charge against Jan. 6 defendant
By Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein – Yesterday 8:50 PM

3/8/2022

Afederal judge has thrown out an obstruction charge against a defendant charged with breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a ruling that could reverberate across hundreds of cases stemming from the attack on Congress.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.
© Julio Cortez/AP Photo, file.


In a 29-page opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols ruled that ambiguities in the federal obstruction law required him to narrow the case against defendant Garret Miller, who is facing multiple felony charges connected to the attack.


Under that narrow interpretation, Nichols ruled, defendants can be charged with obstruction only if they directly attempt to affect “a document, record, or other object” in order to hamper the ability of Congress to count Electoral College votes.

Nichols said that because prosecutors had not alleged that Miller took such direct action — rather, the Justice Department says he simply joined the large mob on Jan. 6 — the obstruction charge against him must be dismissed.

Among the people Nichols cited to bolster his interpretation is President Joe Biden. The judge noted that Biden said the law in question, passed in 2002 following the Enron scandal, was aimed at making it a crime to shred documents.

The ruling from Nichols, an appointee of President Donald Trump, is at odds with a series of decisions from other judges in Washington who have considered similar issues in cases stemming from the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol and concluded that the obstruction law does cover efforts to “corruptly” interfere with the ability of Congress to tally electoral votes.

All of the judges to address these issues thus far, including Nichols, have accepted prosecutors’ argument that the counting of the electoral votes amounted to an “official proceeding” that could be obstructed.

Related video: Judge calls out DOJ’s handling of Jan. 6 prosecutions (MSNBC)


Judge calls out DOJ’s handling of Jan. 6 prosecutions


Nichols said, however, that prosecutors had to allege some connection to documents, and that the formal charges against Miller didn’t make clear enough that he was accused of trying to interfere directly with the records involved in the congressional process of receiving the votes and counting objections. Nichols seemed to leave open the possibility that prosecutors could seek a new indictment against Miller making specific allegations about interfering with Congress’ records. Some judges rejected similar arguments from other defendants, although it’s unclear whether they were all framed exactly as the ones advanced by Miller’s lawyers.

Defense attorneys have said prosecutors vowed that they would appeal any judge’s decision undercutting the prosecution’s use of the obstruction charge in Jan. 6 cases. The offense carries a potential maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the ruling or the prospects for an appeal.

Miller’s attorney, Clint Broden of Dallas, hailed the decision and predicted it could have a broad impact.

“In charging Mr. Miller with violating this statute, the government obviously believed that the ends to be accomplished somehow justified charging him with a statute that was not applicable to his alleged conduct. Judge Nichols correctly decided otherwise,” Broden said in an email. “This could result in a significant change as to how the government prosecutes the January 6 cases going forward.”

Still, Nichols’ decision, even if sustained by an appeals court, might not be fatal to other cases charging obstruction of the Congressional vote.

Miller’s case drew headlines in early 2021 because of social media threats he made to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and a U.S. Capitol Police officer who he thought fired the shot that killed Ashli Babbitt, one of the Capitol rioters. He allegedly tweeted “Assassinate AOC” shortly after Jan. 6, 2021.

Miller has been jailed since his arrest two weeks after the riot. As recently as December, Nichols denied a request from Miller to be released pending trial.

Even without the charge Nichols dismissed on Monday, Miller faces five felony charges and six misdemeanor charges in connection with those events.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated the length of Judge Carl Nichols’ opinion. It was 29 pages.

kommonsentsjane

About kommonsentsjane

Enjoys sports and all kinds of music, especially dance music. Playing the keyboard and piano are favorites. Family and friends are very important.
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