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Federal Appeals Court Ruling May Shorten Sentences for Jan. 6 Capitol Rioters

In a significant development stemming from the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, more than 100 individuals convicted of participating in the riot led by supporters of former President Donald Trump could see their sentences shortened.

Ruling Issued on Friday

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This follows a ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday, which has potentially far-reaching implications for those implicated in obstructing the work of Congress during the unprecedented events.

Disagreement With Extended Sentences 

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The Court of Appeals determined that individuals convicted of obstructing Congress should not have received extended sentences for interfering with the “administration of justice.” 

Prompting Reevaluation of Sentencing 

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This decision, reached unanimously with a 3-0 vote, has stirred discussions within legal circles and could prompt a reevaluation of sentencing for numerous rioters charged with felony obstruction.

Notable Case Affected

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One notable case affected by the ruling is that of Larry Brock, a retired Air Force officer from Grapevine, Texas, who was sentenced to two years in prison by U.S. District Judge John Bates last March. 

Capitol Riot Involvement

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Brock’s conviction stemmed from his involvement in the Capitol riot, during which he was found to have worn combat gear and carried zip-tie handcuffs.

Resentencing Mandated 

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While the appeals court upheld Brock’s conviction, it mandated that he be resentenced, setting a precedent that could potentially impact similar cases. 

Lengthier Prison Terms 

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The decision challenges the application of the “administration of justice” enhancement, which typically results in lengthier prison terms for those found guilty of disrupting judicial proceedings.

No Comment 

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In response to the court’s ruling, the U.S. Department of Justice refrained from commenting on the specific case but acknowledged that over 100 defendants’ cases could potentially be affected. 

Implications Extend Beyond Individual Cases 

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However, Larry Brock’s legal representative did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the matter. 

The broader implications of the ruling extend beyond individual cases, as it coincides with the upcoming consideration of the felony obstruction issue by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Court to Hear Rioter Arguments 

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Next month, the highest court in the land is set to hear arguments regarding whether the January 6 rioters can be charged with obstructing an official proceeding, a decision that could have repercussions not only for the defendants but also for former President Trump.

Broader Application Questioned 

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The appeals court’s decision hinges on the interpretation of the term “administration of justice.” 

While federal sentencing guidelines recommend applying this enhancement to defendants who disrupt judicial proceedings, the court questioned the broader application of the term in cases related to the Capitol riot.

Judge Partricia Rejects Argument 

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Circuit Judge Patricia Millett, writing on behalf of the appeals court, rejected the Justice Department’s argument equating Congress’s certification of the election results on January 6, 2021, to a judicial proceeding. 

Not All Activities Included 

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Millett, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, emphasized that the enhancement did not encompass all activities undertaken by Congress or the administration of government in general.

Not Obstruction of Justice 

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Despite acknowledging the severity of Brock’s actions and their impact on democratic processes, Judge Millett asserted that his interference with the electoral college vote-counting process did not constitute obstruction of justice.

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