The case against Donald Trump and 300 other felony prosecutions related to the events of January 6 could be dealt a huge blow as the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will be reviewing an obstruction law that was used against them.
The case, Fischer v. United States, involves the prosecution of January 6 defendant Joseph Fischer. The former police officer was accused of inflaming a mob that tried to enter the Capitol and pushing against police, and he was charged with multiple federal crimes. His case challenges the Justice Department’s interpretation of the charge of “obstruction of an official proceeding,” section 1512(c)(2), which was also used against hundreds of other defendants who took part in the events at the Capitol that day, including Trump. The charge criminalizes “corruptly” obstructing, interfering with, or impeding official government proceedings and has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
In this case, the “official proceeding” was the official final count of Electoral College votes by Congress, the last step in certifying Biden’s win over Trump. The charge comes from a 2002 law that was put in place in the wake of the Enron scandal and is typically used to prosecute conduct involving the destruction of evidence. The notion of whether it applies to allegedly obstructing the electoral count process has been a topic of great debate throughout the prosecutions of January 6 defendants.
A federal judge threw out that specific charge against Fischer, who contended that the charge was improper because its aim was to punish physically tampering with documents, like shredding papers. The district court judge on his case agreed and dismissed the charge due to a lack of allegations he was trying to impede the handling of records.
The ruling was appealed by the Department of Justice, however. A federal appeals court was divided on the matter, with a majority maintaining that the obstruction statute’s broad terms were met. Now, it will be up the Supreme Court.
Potential game changer for J6 defendants
Explaining the gravity of the situation, investigative reporter Julie Kelly wrote on X: “This is a day so many J6ers have been waiting for. Lives destroyed, people rotting in prison. All bc Biden’s DOJ abused a post-Enron evidence tampering statute. And what will Jack Smith do now? 2 of 4 counts in his indictment in jeopardy. This is potentially more impactful than immunity issue.”
If the justices do strike down the interpretation of the law, it could have a huge impact as it was used as the foundation of several serious January 6 cases. At least one defendant has already made a move as a result. Ethan Seitz, who was convicted of felony obstruction of justice after climbing into the Capitol building through a broken window, asked his trial-level judge to cancel a sentencing hearing next month as a result of the pending case “in the interests of judicial economy.”
Speaking to Newsweek, former federal prosecutor Michael McAuliffe said: “A ruling against the government in the Fischer case in the Supreme Court could well have a ripple effect in many other Capitol riot cases where the defendants were charged with the same obstruction of justice provision, went to trial (as opposed to pleading guilty) and were convicted.”
Some legal experts have predicted that Trump’s federal election interference trial, which is scheduled for March, will be held until a decision on the Fischer case is handed down by the Supreme Court. The high court will be given until June to hand down a ruling.
The move marks the first time the Supreme Court has agreed to review the prosecution of someone who was involved in the events of January 6.
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