Posted BY: Clarice Feldman

In a 107-page split opinion, the U.S.  Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia may well have torched the outrageous overcharging of hundreds of people who peacefully walked through the Capitol, a public building, on January 6, 2021. 

The question before the court was whether the phrase “obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2)” warrants charging those who peacefully walked through the Capitol with felonies. 

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The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia means that the charge — the obstruction of an official proceeding before Congress — can continue to be used in the Justice Department’s prosecutions related to the Jan. 6 riot. It could also ultimately be used against Mr. Trump should the special counsel, Jack Smith, decide to file a case against him related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

But even though the three-judge panel, in a 2-1 ruling, left in place the status quo and temporarily avoided crippling hundreds of Jan. 6 cases by invalidating the obstruction count, it still presented a serious challenge to the Justice Department moving forward.

A provision of the law requires proving that any interference with a congressional proceeding be done “corruptly.” Two of the judges said they were inclined to define that term in a narrow way as receiving a personal benefit — even though the panel as a whole put off a final decision on the issue.  The split decision left wiggle room for defense lawyers to try a flurry of complicated new efforts to invalidate the charge in all of the cases in which it has been used.

A future ruling that narrowed the definition of “corruptly” could have significant effects on the Jan. 6 prosecutions. 

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