Jan. 6 cases start being reopened after Supreme Court ruling

Just hours after the Supreme Court narrowed an obstruction charge used to prosecute scores of Jan. 6 rioters, trial-level judges have started to reopen some cases tied to the 2021 Capitol attack.

The federal judge who oversaw the case against Guy Reffitt — the first rioter convicted by a jury — ordered Reffitt’s attorneys and the Justice Department (DOJ) to propose a schedule for “further proceedings” in light of the justices’ decision by July 5, signaling a resentencing is imminent.

Reffitt was convicted on five counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding. The charge, stemming from Section 1512(c)(2), makes it a crime to “corruptly” obstruct, impede or interfere with official inquiries and investigations by Congress. It carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and has been used to prosecute more than 350 rioters accused of interrupting Congress’s certification of the 2020 electoral vote.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Friday to rein in the obstruction charge after a different rioter, Joseph Fischer, challenged that provision as being improperly applied to those who participated in the Capitol attack.

The judge who handled Reffitt’s case — U.S. District Judge Dabney Langhorne Friedrich, a Trump appointee — reopened several other rioters’ cases Friday afternoon, directing them to adhere to similar instructions as Reffitt.

Among the hundreds of defendants convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding are several members of the extremist Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups — including the leaders of each group, Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes, respectively, though they were each convicted of the more serious charge of seditious conspiracy.

Their cases remain dormant for now, though an attorney for Tarrio told The Hill earlier Friday that the ex-Proud Boys national chair’s lawyers plan to “thoroughly review” Tarrio’s sentence and “any collateral consequences” of the high court’s decision.

Though most rioters charged with the obstruction count also faced other felony counts, 50 rioters were sentenced with the obstruction law as their only felony, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said during arguments before the Supreme Court in April.

Other rioters took plea deals involving the charge, like Tennessee native Ronald Sandlin, whom prosecutors said traveled to Washington in a rental car packed with two pistols, two magazines of ammunition, cans of bear mace and other gear. His case was reopened Friday.

The Supreme Court’s decision could also cause one of the most notorious rioters from the Capitol attack to face prosecution again, the DOJ signaled in recent court filings: Jacob Chansley, dubbed the “QAnon Shaman.”

Chansley pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding and was sentenced to 41 months in prison without a trial. He was released early last year, but in recent court filings, prosecutors said the Supreme Court’s decision “may create a situation where evidence must be preserved and Defendant tried,” not expanding further on the matter.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement following the verdict Friday that he is “disappointed” by the decision, but the “vast majority” of rioters charged for their role in the attack “will not be affected by this decision.” The DOJ will take “appropriate steps” to comply with the high court’s ruling, he said.

“We will continue to use all available tools to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the January 6 attack on our democracy,” Garland said.

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