Justice Department Faces Unprecedented Challenges in Jan. 6 Cases After Supreme Court Ruling


In the wake of a landmark Supreme Court decision that narrowed the scope of a key charge in the Jan. 6 breach cases, the Department of Justice is scrambling to reassess the implications for dozens of ongoing cases.

Within the past week, prosecutors have approached judges in Washington, D.C., with requests for extra time to evaluate the potential impacts of the Fischer v. United States decision. The ruling effectively limited the charges that can be brought against defendants for attempting to obstruct official proceedings.

In one such case, Judge Dabney Friedrich asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to provide recommendations for “further proceedings” and a new sentencing date for defendant Ronald Sandlin in light of the Fischer decision. Sandlin had pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting an officer, and was sentenced to over five years behind bars.

Prosecutors requested an additional 30 days to respond to the judge’s directive, stating that they needed time to determine whether the obstruction charge against Sandlin is still viable under the Supreme Court’s revised interpretation of the law.

Tara Stottlemyer, who is circled in red, examines papers in the Senate chamber after breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Department of Justice)

In the case of Tara Stottlemyer, DOJ prosecutors sought 60 days to respond to the defendant’s request to vacate her sentence of eight months in jail and two years probation. Stottlemyer had pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing an official proceeding for entering the Capitol and rifling through senators’ papers.

Her attorney argued that under the Supreme Court’s new guidelines, Stottlemyer’s guilty plea and sentence were “constitutionally infirm” and must be vacated. Prosecutors, however, countered that they required extra time to respond to Stottlemyer’s request “so that this process may take place efficiently and thoughtfully.”

Similarly, in the case of Donovan Crowl, who was convicted of obstruction and civil disorder, prosecutors requested an extra 30-60 days to assess the impact of the Fischer decision on his sentencing, which is currently scheduled for July.

The Supreme Court’s decisions have also cast doubt on special counsel Jack Smith’s ability to charge former President Donald Trump with election interference charges. Legal experts predict that Judge Tanya Chutkan will soon schedule a hearing to reconfigure the indictment, potentially eliminating any presidential activities deemed protected by the high court’s new guidelines.

As the Justice Department navigates the unpredictable terrain of these new legal challenges, special counsel Smith faces an uphill battle to salvage his case against the former president.

Ashley Oliver
Ashley Oliver
Ashley Oliver is a Justice Department reporter. She previously covered Congress and campaigns for Breitbart News. Originally from Fredericksburg, Virginia, she graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in classics and philosophy before spending six years in Massachusetts working in the real estate industry.

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