An interesting development has occurred in the prosecution against the January 6 rioters. Three-judge appeals court ruled that the Justice Department can continue with hundreds of cases in which defendants were charged with obstruction of an official proceeding.
It remains to be determined if the 300 rioters who invaded the Capitol building during an official proceeding acted with “corrupt intention”. All three appeals court judges also questioned the correct interpretation of “corrupt intention” by the prosecution.
It is crucial that hundreds of Jan 6 rioters are protected from what may seem esoteric. For those rioters also charged with assaulting officers, the “corrupt intention” standard doesn’t apply. For those who are only charged with obstruction of Congress, the definition could be liberty or 20-years in prison.
The core of the dispute is how to determine whether Jan. 6 rioters were acting with “corrupt intention”, a key element in the crime obstructing a formal proceeding. Judges noted that “corrupt intention” was required to avoid criminalizing traditional protest and lobbying activities, which have been an integral part of American civic engagement throughout American history. The definition of corrupt intent must be distinguished from possible criminal conduct in order to make a decision about it.
Judge Florence Pan, the majority opinion writer, stated that it was not the right time to resolve this broad question. The three defendants in the case were also charged with assaulting officers. It is clear that the assaults on police officers that day were motivated by “corrupt intention.” However, in Jan. 6 obstruction cases, which do not involve assault, it is more difficult to determine “corrupt intention,” she stated.
The judge appointed by Biden wrote that it was more prudent to wait to address the meaning of “corrupt” intent until the issue has been properly presented to court.
The ruling reversed a U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols’ decision that the January 6 defendants were not being properly charged with obstruction. Only because the corrupt intention standard was not defined, the appeals court disagreed.
There are huge stakes for both the Justice Department as well as many January 6 defendants. The entire DOJ theory that was used to prosecute only a few defendants could be overturned by a different interpretation on corrupt intent.
Pan pointed out that corrupt intent has been defined in many cases before. Pan noted that the Supreme Court has described “corrupt intent” in multiple ways.
Justin Walker, Trump’s appointee as a judge, concurred with Pan’s conclusion, but set a stricter standard for corruption intent.
Walker stated that “a defendant must intend to receive a benefit he knows is illegal.”
Defense attorneys representing Jan. 6 defendants have already begun to study Walker’s analysis. Nicholas Smith, who represented three Jan.6 defendants in the case before the appeals court panel, stated that Walker’s narrow definition of “corrupt intention” is the binding opinion of court.
This is the Justice Department’s problem. To get the January 6 rioters to agree to a plea deal, they wanted to use the obstruction case as a sword to hang over their heads. Most of the January 6 defendants accepted their deal, which saw them spend 20 years in prison.
DoJ and Biden will face a near unprecedented backlash if hundreds of rioters are released. Politicians say “very bad optics.”