Jan. 6 defendants from CT could get lighter sentences after Supreme Court ruling

The justices ruled 6-3 that the charge of obstructing an official proceeding, enacted in 2002 in response to the Enron financial scandal, must include proof that defendants tried to tamper with or destroy documents.

John Craven and Associated Press

Jun 28, 2024, 9:12 PM

Updated 23 days ago


Two Connecticut men charged in the Jan. 6 riot could get lighter sentences after a major Supreme Court ruling on Friday.
The justices ruled 6-3 that the charge of obstructing an official proceeding, enacted in 2002 in response to the Enron financial scandal, must include proof that defendants tried to tamper with or destroy documents. Only some of the people who violently attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, fall into that category.
Patrick McCaughey of Ridgefield, is one of them.
McCaughey became a poster child for the brutality of the Capitol riot. A viral video showed him pinning a police officer into a doorway, where he was crushed. Another protester beat the officer with his own baton as he screamed in pain.
"Your actions on Jan. 6 were some of the most egregious crimes that were committed that day," District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, said during sentencing.
McCaughey was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison for assault and election obstruction. The attorney who represented him believes the obstruction charge will now be dismissed, thanks to Friday's Supreme Court ruling.
"It was a real overreach. If you look at the purpose of the statute, it was in the wake of the Enron scandal where people were destroying documents," said Stamford attorney Lindy Urso. "I think everybody's who been convicted of this – which, I think, is a lot of them – will be eligible for re-sentencing. Including Patrick."
McCaughey is currently appealing his convictions. Urso, who is not involved in the appeal, believes he simply got caught up in a political rally that got out of hand.
"Look, he should pay a price commensurate with what he did," Urso said. "And his sentence was far, far beyond his conduct."
Friday's ruling will also impact a Harwinton man's case.
Richard Crosby Jr. was charged with a felony obstruction count, along with five misdemeanors, for entering the U.S. Senate chamber during the riot.
Crosby's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment, but Stamford attorney Stephan Seeger – who represented several Jan. 6 suspects who were never charged – said the obstruction charge will probably be dropped.
"Those cases will result in counsel going to the government and moving to have them dismissed, and having people released from jail," Seeger said.
A judge placed Crosby's case on hold in February, pending Friday's Supreme Court decision:
Prosecutors used the obstruction charge in hundreds of prosecutions, including former President Donald Trump. It's unclear how the court's decision will affect the case, although special counsel Jack Smith has said it will not be affected because Trump's charges involve actual document tampering.
Regardless, Trump called the ruling a "BIG WIN!" for "J6 political prisoners" in a Truth Social post.
The high court returned the case of former Pennsylvania police officer Joseph Fischer to a lower court, to determine if he can be charged with obstruction. Fischer has been indicted for his role in disrupting Congress' certification of Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 victory over Trump.
Fischer is among about 350 people who have been charged with obstruction. Some pleaded guilty to or were convicted of lesser charges.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court's opinion, joined by conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas, and by liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Reading the obstruction statute broadly "would also criminalize a broad swath of prosaic conduct, exposing activists and lobbyists to decades in prison," Roberts wrote.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett dissented, along with Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
Barrett, one of three justices appointed by Trump, wrote that the law clearly encompasses the events of Jan. 6. "The riot forced Congress to suspend the proceeding, delaying it for several hours," she wrote.
She said her colleagues in the majority did "textual backflips to find some way — any way — to narrow the reach" of the obstruction law.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said he was disappointed with the decision, which he said "limits an important federal statute." Still, Garland said the cases against the "vast majority" of people charged in the attack won't be affected.
"Jan. 6 was an unprecedented attack on the cornerstone of our system of government — the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next," he said. "We will continue to use all available tools to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on our democracy."

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