Supreme Court takes case challenging validity of 'obstruction' charge pressed against Trump, Jan. 6 defendants

December 15, 2023
by
Ben Marquis

The Supreme Court just picked up a new case this week that features the genuine prospect of pulling the rug out from under Special Counsel Jack Smith's 2020 election-related prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

The high court on Wednesday announced that it would take up a challenge to a particular "obstruction of an official proceeding" charge that federal prosecutors have applied to Trump along with hundreds of Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants, according to the Associated Press.

If a majority of the justices agree that the particular charge has been too broadly interpreted or misapplied, that ruling could "upend hundreds of charges" pressed against Capitol protesters and the former president.

Alleged misapplication of particular "obstruction" charge

At issue here is a federal statute typically used to prosecute financial crimes and involves the destruction of documentary evidence of such crimes to "obstruct" prosecutors and courts.

18 U.S.C. Sec. 1512(c) states "Whoever corruptly -- (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both."

That alleged crime and a related "conspiracy" to commit such obstruction are two of the four federal charges pressed against former President Trump by Special Counsel Smith and have also reportedly been applied to more than 300 Jan. 6 defendants.

Three of those Jan. 6 defendants, led by former police officer Joseph Fischer, argued that the statute was inapplicable to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and a district court judge agreed and dismissed the charge, only for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to override the lower court and reinstate the questionable criminal charge.

Favorable ruling would potentially impact hundreds of defendants

Per the AP, at least 152 Jan. 6 defendants have already either been convicted or pleaded guilty to that particular obstruction charge, with 108 of those already receiving hefty prison sentences -- all of which could be undone if the Supreme Court ultimately rules in favor of the statute's challengers.

In fact, Jan. 6 defense attorney Kira Anne West told the outlet that, in such an outcome, the lower courts would be compelled to "undo a whole bunch of cases" and, at the very least, adjust sentences downward for those who may still have to serve time on other charges they were convicted of.

She said, "This is a watershed day. In our world -- defense lawyer world -- this is huge."

More bad news for Smith

Meanwhile, as two of the charges pressed by Special Counsel Smith against former President Trump are under threat by the Supreme Court, so too is the rapid timeline and March 4, 2024 trial start date that Smith has desperately tried to adhere to, according to ABC News.

That is because presiding District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted a motion from Trump to place the entire proceedings on hold while he and Smith battle it out in the appellate process to determine whether or not Trump still enjoys the protection from prosecution that stems from his presidential immunity.

Oddly enough, while Trump's attorneys followed normal procedures and appealed the matter to the D.C. Circuit Court after Chutkan rejected his immunity argument, Smith made the unorthodox move of bypassing the appeals court with a petition to the Supreme Court to intervene and swiftly settle the dispute in the interest of speed and keeping with the previously scheduled trial start date that will almost certainly now be delayed.

In a statement in response to Judge Chutkan's ruling, a Trump campaign spokesman said, "This is a big win for President Trump and our rule of law, as it derails Deranged Jack Smith’s rush to judgment strategy of interfering in the 2024 Presidential Election in support of Joe Biden’s campaign. They waited almost three years to bring this hoax 'case' and are now desperately trying, and failing, to rush it because they know President Trump is dominating the election."

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