A Texas man charged for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 says the government is improperly charging him under a federal obstruction statute, and is pushing to have the charge against him dismissed.
Guy Reffitt was seen amid the mob on Jan. 6 washing his eyes out as though he had just been sprayed with chemical irritants. He later allegedly threatened his family, including his children, to keep quiet about his presence at the riot. He has since been charged with multiple crimes, including witness tampering, civil disorder, and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Reffitt is trying to have that obstruction charged dismissed. The 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.
Reffitt, like other defendants trying to get the same charge against them dismissed, argued that the Electoral College certification of the 2020 presidential election results was not an “official proceeding” for purposes of the statute, and that the word “corruptly” was unconstitutionally vague.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich disagreed, rejecting a motion to dismiss brought by Ronald Sandlin and Nathaniel DeGrave. In that case, Friedrich found that the certification process on Jan. 6 was an official proceeding, and that the statute’s use of the word “corruptly” was not unconstitutionally vague.
However, even though Friedrich didn’t dismiss the charges in the Sandlin case, she left the door open for a dismissal in Reffitt’s case.
“In contrast to the indictment at issue in Sandlin, the Indictment in this case does not allege any facts in support of the § 1512(c)(2) charge,” Friedrich wrote in a minute order issued one day after her ruling in Sandlin. “[I]t is unclear, based on the indictment alone, what actions Reffitt allegedly engaged in to obstruct and impede the official proceeding.”
Friedrich’s order said she 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,” but offered Reffitt the chance to argue why she shouldn’t wait.
Reffitt takes the position that the government has failed to allege facts as required under this statute, and that’s a violation of Reffitt’s constitutional right to fair notice of the charges against him.
“If the government’s interpretation of ‘corruptly’ as charged in the indictment is legally deficient, then Count Two does not state an offense, and the government has not presented legally congnizable evidence to the grand jury in satisfaction of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment presentment right,” Reffitt’s brief said.
Reffitt says the government “provides no notice whatsoever of what the ‘corruptly’ element factually entails in this case,” and then asks: “What was the ‘unlawful benefit Reffitt intended to and did receive on January 6? Whom did Reffitt influence to violate their legal duty and thereby obstruct an official proceeding?”
Reffitt’s brief closes by saying that “the meaning of ‘corruptly’ in the context of obstructing Congress and what actions defendant allegedly did to obstruct Congress can and should be resolved before trial to avoid waste, to uphold Reffitt’s constitutionally protected liberty interest, and because Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 7 and 12 and the due process and presentment clauses of the Fifth Amendment require it.”
On Wednesday, after Reffitt filed his brief, Friedrich said in a minute order that the government has until Friday to respond. Reffitt must reply to that response by Monday.
You can read Reffitt’s brief, below.
[Images via FBI.]
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