Supreme Court limits use of obstruction charge in Jan. 6 cases, including Trump's

Washington — The Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of a former Pennsylvania police officer who was charged with obstructing an official proceeding after he entered the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, and narrowed the Justice Department’s use of a federal obstruction statute leveled against scores of people who breached the building where Congress had convened to count state electoral votes.

The court ruled 6-3 in finding that to prove a violation of the obstruction law, the government must show that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity of records, documents or other objects used in an official proceeding. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined five conservatives in the majority, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with the two other liberals.

The Supreme Court’s decision could affect the ongoing prosecutions of nearly 250 defendants charged with obstruction for their participation in the Jan. 6 assault. It could also upend cases that have already been adjudicated, since those who were convicted of violating the obstruction statute or pleaded guilty could seek resentencing, withdraw their pleas or ask for new trials. There are 52 cases in which a defendant was convicted and sentenced on charges where the obstruction count was the sole felony, and of those, 27 are currently incarcerated, according to the Justice Department.

Crucially, the ruling could also impact the federal prosecution of former President Donald Trump, who is facing charges stemming from an alleged scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The obstruction statute and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding are among the four counts Trump faces in the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The former president could ask a federal district court to toss out the two obstruction-related counts as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision. The justices are also weighing a separate bid by Trump to have the entire indictment dismissed on the grounds of presidential immunity, though they have yet to issue a decision.

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