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Supreme Court to Review Validity of ‘Obstruction’ Charge Against Trump and Jan. 6 Defendants

This week, the Supreme Court has taken on a case that has the potential to significantly impact Special Counsel Jack Smith’s 2020 election-related prosecution of former President Donald Trump. The case revolves around a specific “obstruction of an official proceeding” charge, which federal prosecutors have applied to Trump and numerous defendants linked to the January 6 Capitol riot.

The Associated Press reports that the Supreme Court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences, possibly overturning hundreds of charges against Capitol protesters and the former president if the justices find that the charge has been overly broad or misapplied.

The focus of the case is a federal statute, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1512(c), typically used for prosecuting financial crimes. This statute involves the destruction of documentary evidence to obstruct prosecutors and courts. If the Supreme Court deems that the charge has been misapplied, it could impact not only Trump but also over 300 Jan. 6 defendants facing similar allegations.

The dispute centers on the applicability of the statute to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Three Jan. 6 defendants, led by former police officer Joseph Fischer, argued that the statute was not relevant to the events of that day. While a district court judge initially agreed and dismissed the charge, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the decision and reinstated the contested criminal charge.

According to the AP, at least 152 Jan. 6 defendants have been convicted or pleaded guilty to the obstruction charge, with 108 already serving substantial prison sentences. A favorable ruling from the Supreme Court could potentially undo these convictions and lead to sentence adjustments for those convicted on other charges.

Jan. 6 defense attorney Kira Anne West emphasized the significant impact such a ruling could have, stating that it would compel lower courts to “undo a whole bunch of cases” and, at the very least, consider downward adjustments for individuals convicted on other charges.

As the Supreme Court reviews these charges against Trump and the Jan. 6 defendants, Special Counsel Smith faces additional challenges. The rapid timeline and the March 4, 2024 trial start date are in jeopardy, as presiding District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted a motion from Trump to halt proceedings while the immunity argument is addressed in the appellate process.

Trump’s attorneys followed standard procedures by appealing to the D.C. Circuit Court after Chutkan rejected the immunity argument. However, Smith took an unconventional route by bypassing the appeals court, petitioning the Supreme Court to intervene and expedite the resolution in the interest of maintaining the scheduled trial start date.

Responding to Judge Chutkan’s ruling, a Trump campaign spokesman stated, “This is a big win for President Trump and our rule of law,” asserting that it derails Smith’s strategy and rush to judgment, emphasizing that the case was brought almost three years after the events in question. The spokesman argued that the prosecution’s urgency is an attempt to interfere in the 2024 Presidential Election in support of Joe Biden’s campaign.


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