Supreme Court Rules Jan. 6 Rioter to Challenge Obstruction Charge

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Friday in favor of a former police officer seeking to dismiss an obstruction charge for joining the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, in a decision that could benefit the former president Donald Trump.

The justices, by a vote of 6-3, awarded a victory to defendant Joseph Fischer, who is among hundreds of Jan. 6 defendants — including Trump — who have been charged with obstructing an official proceeding following the attempt to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

The court concluded that the law, enacted in 2002 as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act after the Enron accounting scandal, was intended to apply only in limited circumstances involving the tampering of physical evidence.

The court sent the case back to the lower courts for further proceedings to determine whether the Justice Department could still prosecute Fischer under the new interpretation of the law.

The law in question, 18 U.S. Code 1512, carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

It remains to be seen how much the ruling favors Trump. Prosecutors in the Trump case have said that even if Fischer wins, Trump’s conduct would still be covered by a narrower interpretation of the statute.

Fischer faces seven criminal charges, only one of which has been tried in the Supreme Court. Although the obstruction charge is ultimately dismissed, Other charges, including assaulting a police officer and entering a restricted building, will remain in place.

The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, has in the past been skeptical of prosecutors when they say the criminal provisions are widely enforced.

In his election interference case, Trump faces four counts, including one count of obstructing an official proceeding and another of conspiring to do so.

In a separate case, the Supreme Court is considering Trump’s request for presidential immunity in the election interference case, which will also impact whether all charges stand before trial.

On Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors said, Fischer joined the crowd that entered the Capitol from the east side. “Charge!” he shouted over and over again before heading towards a line of police shouting, “Motherf—–s!” says the government.

He and other rioters then fell to the ground. After other rioters brought him up, a video leaked as evidence in other Jan. 6 trials, he tried to appeal to the officers protecting the Capitol, telling them he was an officer, too.

Fischer was previously a police officer in North Cornwall Township, Pennsylvania. (Another man named Joseph Fisher, who was also a police officer, was recently sentenced to 20 months in prison for his own role on January 6.)

Although 247 of the more than 1,400 January 6 cases are eligible for the Fischer ruling, there are only 52 cases in which it is the sole serious offense, and only 27 of those defendants are still serving time. Most recently, Benjamin Martin, a January 6 defendant, was convicted Wednesday of obstructing an official proceeding, but he has also been convicted of serious civil disorder and misdemeanor counts.

Recently, judges have taken the pending Fischer decision into account in their sentencing decisions. If a defendant had been convicted of another crime, such as assaulting an officer, he has gone on record as saying he would have reached the same verdict regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fischer.

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