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Supreme Court to Review Obstruction Law Used Against January 6 Rioters That Could Impact the Case Against Trump

The Supreme Court said Wednesday that it will consider whether part of a federal obstruction law can be used to prosecute some of the rioters involved in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

How the Supreme Court defines how the obstruction law can be used related to the Capitol attack could impact hundreds of criminal cases, even the pending case against former President Donald Trump, who is also charged with obstructing an official proceeding.

The specific issue in the case involves a catch-all provision of a federal criminal statute that makes it a crime for anyone who “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding,” and what the government must prove with regard to the intent of January 6 rioters.

The Justice Department has used the charge as the cornerstone of many of the more serious Capitol riot cases, where defendants were outspoken about their desire to stop Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win or were instrumental in the physical breach of the Capitol.

Joseph Fischer, the man at the center of the case, was charged with multiple federal crimes for his role in the January 6 attack.

A federal judge agreed to throw out the specific charge brought against Fischer under the obstruction law. A federal appeals court divided on the matter earlier this year, with a majority holding that the broad terms of the obstruction statute were satisfied as applied to individuals who forcibly entered the Capitol on January 6. The Supreme Court will now decide the issue this term.

“That the Court is intervening now suggests that the justices are interested in providing general clarity on an issue that has caused at least some confusion in a subset of the January 6 cases,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

The justices’ move Wednesday represents the first time the high court has agreed to examine the prosecution of someone involved in the Capitol riot. It comes the same week that special counsel Jack Smith has asked the court to review Trump’s claims of immunity from prosecution for his role in attempting to subvert the 2020 election.

Federal prosecutors said video footage showed him running at a police line outside the Capitol and yelling, “Charge!” A patrolman with the North Cornwall Township Police Department, Fisher allegedly yelled “motherf–kers” as he clashed with officers on January 6.

During the scuffle, Fischer allegedly tried to help an officer who fell down, and said, “I am a cop, I am a cop,” according to police body camera footage described by prosecutors in court filings.

One day after the attack, Fischer allegedly sent a private message to an associate saying, “I may need a job” because “(w)ord got out that I was at the rally..lol.” In the messages, Fischer said he was confronted by his police chief but told him he had “no regrets and give zero sh–s.”

“The FBI may arrest me ..lol,” Fischer told the associate, according to court documents.

The federal appeals court that decided Fischer’s case earlier this year – which was decided along with two similar cases – said obstruction can include a “wide range of conduct” when a defendant has a corrupt intent and is targeting an official proceeding, such as the congressional certification of the presidential election on January 6, 2021.

“The broad interpretation of the statute – encompassing all forms of obstructive acts – is unambiguous and natural,” Judge Florence Pan of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote in the 2-1 majority opinion.

A decision is expected next summer.

Ripple effect on other riot cases

Within a few hours of the Supreme Court taking the case, the move was having a ripple effect across ongoing January 6 criminal cases.

At least one defendant, Ethan Seitz, asked his trial-level judge to cancel his sentencing hearing set for January because of the Supreme Court case that’s now pending. His lawyers asked for his not to be sentenced yet “in the interests of judicial economy.”

Seitz was convicted of felony obstruction of justice related to his actions in the Capitol riot. He had climbed into the building near the Senate side through a broken window until he was later pushed back by police, according to court records.

Source : CNN