The Supreme Court of the United States is considering a petition from a January 6 defendant that has the chance to affect hundreds, if not thousands of cases.
The petition for writ of certiorari, a type of appeal to the Supreme Court to review a lower court case, has been filed by a J6 defendant named Edward Lang. Lang contends that he attended the protest at the Capitol grounds on January 6 and was swept up into a riot, where he was compelled to defend himself from violence. In the course of the rioting, he assaulted a police officer, as he contends, to defend himself from harm.
As the petition states, the SCOTUS’ decision “will influence scores, if not hundreds, of prosecutions arising from the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.” The legal filing argues that the court should review the case “to rein in prosecutors” who are misapplying federal statutes in a “potentially dangerous manner.”
“Individuals appearing at protests to petition for the redress of grievances may likely now feel chilled to exercise core First Amendment rights,” the writ contends. “If the protest turns violent, will they, too, be swept in events and charged with acting in a corrupt manner?”
Norman Pattis, Lang’s attorney, criticized the government’s handling of the January 6 cases, characterizing their misuse and abuse of the federal penal code as ‘shocking.’
“Without action from this Court, hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans will face substantial prison sentences for doing no more than speaking out at a protest that evolved into a dynamic conflict,” the petitioners argue. “It is no overstatement to say the future of the First Amendment hangs in the balance.”
Prior to his trial, Lang had filed a motion to dismiss the obstruction charge, which carries a 20-year prison sentence. The D.C. District court initially granted the motion, but the decision was overturned by an appeals court. A subsequent motion for a rehearing was denied.
The appeal is based on Fifth Amendment grounds, holding that, “No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Lang has been in custody for over 900 days without a trial.
He suggested that his appeal could also impact the Justice Department’s potential obstruction charges against former President Donald Trump. Lang emphasized the timing of his filing, as Trump is currently a leading figure within the Republican Party. While other charges against Trump might be resolved through a plea deal, a conviction on the obstruction of Congress charge could have serious consequences for him.
At the heart of the case is the alleged misapplication of 18 U.S. Code 1512 (c)(2), which regards to the obstruction of official proceedings, particularly with a “corrupt purpose.” Prosecutors have argued that the “corrupt purpose” is rioting, purportedly at the behest of former President Donald Trump, with the aim of the president unlawfully retaining power by halting the Electoral College proceedings.
As the legal writ points out, there has been no plausible explanation given by prosecutors about how rioters temporarily obstructing the Electoral College vote count would lead to Donald Trump retaining his office. (Furthermore, the Electoral College session was originally interrupted by the pipe bomb threats at the RNC and DNC headquarters.)
Lang allegedly fought against police officers in the Capitol for more than two hours, repeatedly striking officers with a bat and brandishing a stolen police shield. His 13-count indictment alleged that he assaulted six Metropolitan Police Officers, caused bodily injury to one of them, and engaged in disorderly conduct and physical violence with a bat and shield in a restricted area of the Capitol.
Lang’s motion to dismiss the obstruction charge under was initially granted by the District Court, but the government appealed the decision and the Appellate Court sided with the government in a split decision. A motion for rehearing was denied, and the mandate was stayed only for the obstruction count. Lang is scheduled to go to trial in the fall on related counts.
The key issue in Lang’s petition is whether the indictment’s reliance on the obstruction of official proceedings charge violates the prohibition against an overly broad application of a statute. It is argued that the government’s use of this statute in the January 6 riot prosecutions represents a significant expansion of its scope, which goes against previous interpretations of the law. This broad interpretation has been criticized as politically motivated and a misuse of the penal code.
The charges against Lang include assaults on certain officers under 18 U.S.C. Section 111(a)(1), as well as misdemeanor charges for entering Capitol Grounds and engaging in disorderly and disruptive conduct. These charges carry lesser penalties compared to the obstruction charge.
In summary, the government’s decision to charge Lang under the obstruction of official proceedings charge is argued as an example of prosecutorial overreach. Concerns are raised about the chilling effect on public demonstration and free speech, as well as the broader implications for democracy in America.
“In the District of Columbia prosecutors are now enabled to prosecute anyone who attends at a public demonstration gone awry; the result will be to create fear in those who would otherwise feel free to petition for redress of grievances, assemble in public places, and speak out about public affairs,” the legal filing states. “It is that regime, and not a few hours’ disturbance at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, that is the more grave threat to democracy in America.”