A judge has ruled that the federal obstruction charge against a Texas man who allegedly stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 can stand, at least for now.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied Guy Reffitt‘s motion to dismiss the charge of obstructing an official proceeding of Congress. According to prosecutors, Reffitt was among the scores of Donald Trump supporters who overran police at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election.
Reffitt, whom prosecutors linked to the far-right “Three Percenters” militia group, was seen outside the Capitol that day wearing a helmet and rinsing his eyes after apparently being sprayed with chemicals. He is accused of violently breaching the Capitol building and then threatening his family to keep quiet about it.
Reffitt had argued that the federal obstruction charge violates his constitutional rights. That statute, 18 USC 1512(c)(2), reads as follows:
(c) Whoever corruptly—
(1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or
(2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
Like other defendants, Reffitt challenged the statute on three key grounds: that the Electoral College certification was not an “official proceeding” for purposes of the statute, that the statute was meant to protect the integrity and availability of evidence, that the word “corruptly” was unconstitutionally vague.
Friedrich, a Trump appointee, had recently rejected those arguments in the case of U.S. v. Sandlin, and she stayed the course in Wednesday’s ruling.
After efficiently dispatching Reffitt’s “official proceeding” and evidence arguments, Friedrich addressed the issue of whether “corruptly” properly applied.
“[T]he government asserts that Reffitt violated the statute by stopping, or attempting to stop, the proceeding from going forward on time, with the members of Congress present and able to examine the electoral results,” Friedrich writes in the ruling. “The government further proffers that it will prove that Reffitt charged at officers with the intent to obstruct the proceeding.”
Friedrich said that at this point, the government has alleged enough facts to allow the charge to proceed, but she didn’t close the door entirely on Reffitt’s defense.
“Because the Court cannot determine, based on the indictment alone, whether Reffitt was sufficiently on notice that his conduct was criminal, it will deny his motion to dismiss on this ground as premature,” Friedrich wrote.
Reffitt had argued that the indictment wasn’t specific enough to support the corruption charge. Friedrich disagreed.
“Reffitt’s indictment tracks the language of § 1512(c)(2) and explains which proceeding he allegedly obstructed,” Friedrich wrote. “That is adequate to put him on notice of the charge against him.”
Friedrich’s ruling is not entirely surprising, as she had previously indicated that she was inclined to wait until trial to make a final determination.
“[T]he Court is inclined to defer ruling on [Reffitt’s] vagueness challenge until the facts have been established at trial and the jury has had an opportunity to consider that evidence,” Friedrich wrote in a minute order on Dec. 11, after having heard oral arguments on the matter weeks earlier.
She had requested additional briefing from both sides at that point before ultimately revealing her decision Wednesday.
Friedrich’s ruling in Sandlin is shaping up to be a benchmark for Jan. 6 prosecutions. Since that ruling, two other judges have cited or referred to it in their own rulings denying motions to dismiss on similar grounds.
Read Friedrich’s ruling, below.
[Image via FBI.]
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