Some Jan. 6 rioters received improper sentence enhancements, appeals court rules

The challenge was brought in the case of convicted rioter Larry Brock.

March 1, 2024, 3:30 PM

A D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued a ruling Friday that could impact scores of prison terms handed down to rioters convicted and sentenced for joining the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

The three-judge panel ruled that defendants convicted of obstructing the congressional certification had received improper enhancements of their sentences from district court judges who determined their actions amounted to "substantial interference with the 'administration of justice.'"

The challenge to the enhancement was brought in the case of convicted rioter Larry Brock, who was sentenced in 2023 to two years in prison for his felony conviction of obstructing Congress' work.

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Jose Luis Magana/AP, FILE

In their ruling, the panel of judges upheld Brock's conviction but ordered the district judge overseeing his case to resentence him and remove the enhancement he had previously included -- which in many instances has paved the way for judges to increase the lengths of prison terms for rioters by more than a year.

While it's not immediately clear whether the Justice Department plans to appeal the ruling, the panel's decision is likely to impact dozens of sentences already handed down by judges in cases where they've accepted similar enhancements recommended by prosecutors.

The argument boils down to whether the administration of justice enhancement should apply to the congressional proceedings that were disrupted during the Jan. 6 attack. Prosecutors have argued the statute fits "comfortably" with the certification as it "involved Congress's performance of duties required by law," while defense attorneys have instead argued it should narrowly apply to judicial or grand jury proceedings.

The appeals court panel agreed with Brock's argument, ruling administration of justice "does not extend to the unique congressional function of certifying electoral college votes."

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Julio Cortez/AP, FILE

"The plain, natural, and ordinary meaning of the phrase 'administration of justice' is the governmental process of investigating, determining, and enforcing the legal rights of persons," the panel said.

The ruling comes as the Justice Department is preparing to make its case before the Supreme Court to not overturn a key felony obstruction charge used against hundreds of rioters that defense attorneys have argued stretches beyond what the statute intended. Arguments over the obstruction of an official proceeding charge, which is also among the charges special counsel Jack Smith brought in his indictment against former President Donald Trump, are scheduled for next month.

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