On Friday (April 7), a federal court ruled that U.S. authorities could use criminal charges of obstruction of justice to prosecute those accused of participating in the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
A three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that prosecutors have broad powers to bring the felony charge.
The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while a misdemeanor or illegal demonstration at the Capitol would carry a maximum sentence of one year.
According to the debated statute, persons who “corruptly” alter, destroy or conceal a record, document, or other object, or attempt to do so with the intent to impair the ability of that object to be used in legal proceedings, or “otherwise” hinders, “obstructs” or impedes any official proceeding or attempts to do so is violating federal law and could face punishment by fines, imprisonment, or both.
The court’s decision is likely to affect many cases related to the January 6 attack.
The key word in the debated statute is “otherwise,” which, according to reports by The Washington Post, 14 judges overseeing the insurrection have interpreted as including rioters trying to prevent Congress from confirming President Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
One district judge, Carl Nichols, interpreted the word “otherwise” to only refer to various forms of document tampering.
Nichols ruled that to have obstructed an official proceeding; a defendant must have acted “with respect to a document, record or other object.”