Trump could be in for a 'huge windfall' after the Supreme Court narrowed charges against January 6 rioters

  • The Supreme Court ruled Friday that a statute used against the January 6 attackers was applied too broadly.

  • It was great news for Donald Trump, legal experts told Business Insider.

  • The Department of Justice noted the decision would "most significantly impact a narrow band of cases."

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the obstruction statute used to prosecute the January 6, 2021, defendants was employed too broadly by the Department of Justice.

The obstruction charge doesn't apply to anyone who breached the Capitol, the court said.

Rather, to meet obstruction, "the Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects" or "other things used in the proceeding," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's decision.

Legal experts told Business Insider the decision was great news for Donald Trump and could result in resentencing for certain January 6 defendants.

But it's far from a sweeping victory. That's because Trump and the majority of the January 6 attackers were charged with more than just obstruction.

The DOJ noted in response to the SCOTUS ruling that it would "most significantly impact a narrow band of cases."

Of the 1,427 people charged in the Capitol attack, 52 were convicted on just the obstruction charge in question, and 27 of those people are incarcerated, the DOJ said.

'A huge windfall for Donald Trump'

The SCOTUS decision "may be a huge windfall for Donald Trump," the Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson told BI, but given his other charges, the case against him "has not disappeared."

As for other January 6 defendants, "we are in store for resentencings," though not necessarily retrials, Levenson said. Given that most defendants were charged with multiple offenses, "the government might just take what they already have," she said.

The former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani concurred the SCOTUS ruling was "great news for Trump."

"Smith will likely dismiss the obstruction of an official proceeding charges against Trump to avoid the possibility of dismissal and guaranteed delays in the case," Rahmani told BI in an email. "Litigating the obstruction of a proceeding issue unnecessarily is high risk with little reward."

Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor who said he represented the first Oath Keeper to breach the Capitol, told BI that the ruling was "not a total victory or defeat for either side" but that he'd "rather be on the defendant's side than the government's."

'There's a lot of fuel behind that conservative fire right now'

Another legal expert told BI the SCOTUS ruling actually benefited the prosecution against Trump and argued the indictment would hold up.

That's because Trump's fake-elector scheme involved submitting fraudulent documents to Congress to stop the certification of the election, the New York attorney Richard Hermer-Fried said.

"Trump's actions to stop the certification of the election goes beyond provoking a mob of his supporters to force their way into the Capitol threatening political violence, and, in fact, is a complex scheme involving the manipulation of documents," Hermer-Fried said in an email.

On Monday, the Supreme Court is set to rule on its most consequential January 6 decision: whether Trump, having been president, is immune from prosecution.

Given Friday's fortuitous decision, legal experts surmised the court could rule in his favor.

"The court says it's not playing politics, but the politics are that these decisions are helping Donald Trump," Levenson said. "So I don't think that the court will hesitate to reach a ruling on Monday that helps Donald Trump."

While the conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett dissented from Friday's decision, the Syracuse law professor William Banks told BI the decision showed "the conservative majority is lining up."

Banks said Chevron and other SCOTUS decisions coming down this week "suggests there's a lot of fuel behind that conservative fire right now."

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