Hundreds of Jan. 6 obstruction cases — one of the most commonly charged felonies against those who breached the Capitol or confronted police that day — are facing new uncertainty after a divided appeals court ruling Friday.
The three-judge panel spared the Justice Department an immediate disaster by agreeing to permit three challenged Jan. 6 obstruction cases to continue. But the judges — one liberal and two conservatives — all raised serious questions about whether other Jan. 6 obstruction cases might face legitimate challenges.
At the heart of the conflict is how to measure whether Jan. 6 rioters acted with “corrupt intent,” a central element in the crime of obstructing an official proceeding. The judges noted that the requirement of “corrupt intent” was meant to avoid inadvertently criminalizing traditional protest or lobbying activities that have been a feature of civic engagement throughout American history. Any decision on the meaning of corrupt intent would have to separate those legitimate activities from potential criminal conduct.
But Judge Florence Pan, who wrote the majority opinion, said it was the wrong time to decide that broad question because the three defendants whose cases were before the court were all also charged with assaulting police. There’s little question that those who assaulted police that day acted with “corrupt intent.” But in Jan. 6 obstruction cases that don’t involve assault, determining “corrupt intent” is much more complicated, she said.
“It is more prudent to delay addressing the meaning of ‘corrupt’ intent until that issue is properly presented to the court,” Pan wrote, pointing to the pending appeal of Jan. 6 defendant Thomas Robertson — a former Virginia police officer who was convicted of obstruction by a jury — as one potential vehicle. Pan was appointed to the appeals court by Joe Biden. [Continue reading…]