By: Mark Diaz
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What Federal Charges Are People That Stormed The United States Capitol Facing?
Many That Stormed The Capitol Are Facing Federal Charges
On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob stormed the United States Capitol building in an attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election. At least 5 people died during the attack, including a police officer, and more than 140 other officers were injured. There was also a significant amount of property damage done to the Capitol and its offices.
As of early February 2021, nearly 200 people have been charged with federal crimes connected to the Capitol riots. Michael R. Sherwin, the interim United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, has said that some of the rioters may ultimately be charged with “seditious conspiracy” or “insurrection.” But so far, most of the criminal cases filed involve more common charges like assault and weapons offenses.
Here is a breakdown of some of the federal crimes that have already been charged in the aftermath of January 6, as well as an explanation of some of the charges that may be filed going forward.
Federal Prosecutors in Washington Have Already Charged at Least 40 People
The U.S. Attorney charged one man Jan. 8 with “making interstate threats” against Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. This refers to a criminal offense defined in 18 U.S.C. § 875, which makes it an offense to “transmit in interstate commerce” any “communication” that contains a “threat to injure the person of another.” If convicted, the person charged in this case faces a fine and a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.
Another individual, the one famously seen sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s office with his feet up on her desk–faces federal charges of “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful entry.” This refers to 18 U.S.C. § 1752, which defines a restricted area as one where “a person protected by the Secret Service” is currently visiting. Presumably, this charge was applied due to the presence of then-Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol, who was presiding over the certification of the election results when the riot broke out. If convicted, this particular individual faces a fine and up to 1 year in prison on this specific charge.
As noted above, many other individuals were brought up on weapons-related charges. For example, a Maryland man was charged with “carrying or having readily accessible, on the grounds of the United States Capitol Building, a firearm, and ammunition. Specifically a Taurus G2C, 9mm handgun and 9mm caliber ammunition.” Keep in mind that unlike Texas, the District of Columbia has much stricter laws governing the possession and carrying of firearms. In addition, there are laws preventing individuals from carrying weapons inside the Capitol building itself, even if they are properly registered under state law.
Unlawful Activities in the Capitol
Most of the remaining persons charged to date in connection with January 6 are facing some form of “disorderly conduct” or “unlawful activities” charge. These cases generally fall under 40 U.S.C. § 5104, which govern “unlawful activities” in and around the Capitol building itself. Some of the unlawful activities covered by this section include:
- Engaging in any act of physical violence inside the Capitol, including assault and making threats of bodily harm
- Carrying dangerous weapons, including firearms, certain types of knives, and explosives
- Obstructing the roads that provide access to the Capitol building
- Injuring the property of the Capitol, e.g., climbing on its walls or damaging its architectural features in any way
- Willfully and knowingly entering the chamber of the Senate or the House of Representatives, or their respective public galleries, without authorization
- Remaining in any room of the Capitol “with the intent to disrupt the orderly conduct of official business,” such as the certification of the presidential election
- uttering “loud, threatening, or abusive language” inside the Capitol, again where the intent is to disrupt the orderly conduct of congressional business
Sedition and Insurrection
Many news reports have described the events of January 6 as an “insurrection” and labeled many of the participants as having engaged in “sedition.” These are legal terms that refer to specific federal crimes. And at least as of early February, nobody has been formally charged with either crime. That said, the United States Attorney’s office in Washington, DC, has told reporters that it is investigating the possibility of bringing sedition cases.
So what exactly are these crimes? Under 18 U.S.C. § 2383, a person can be sentenced to 10 years in prison and permanently disqualified from holding any federal office if they “incite” or “engage” in “any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof.” An insurrection, put simply, is rebelling against the lawful civil authority of the federal government.
Sedition–or “seditious conspiracy”–means that two or more people take action to attempt any of the following:
- Overthrow the federal government
- Put down or destroy the federal government by force
- Levy war against the federal government
- Use force to “prevent, hinder, or delay” the execution of any federal law
- Use force to “seize, take, or possess” any property of the federal government
Seditious conspiracy is actually a more serious charge than insurrection, as it carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.
Again, as of this writing, no formal insurrection or seditious conspiracy charges have been filed against anyone who participated in the Jan. 6 riots. But if such charges are brought, they would likely focus on the stated goal of many riot participants that they were attempting to prevent the formal certification of the 2020 election. This does not necessarily mean that everyone who entered the building unlawfully is guilty of insurrection or seditious conspiracy; the burden would still be on federal prosecutors to prove each individual defendant acted with the intent to undermine the government’s authority.
Murder and Felony Murder
As previously noted, at least 5 people died during the January 6 riots. One of the victims was a Capitol police officer, Brian Sicknick. As of early February, the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding Sicknick’s death.
Early media reports suggested that one of the rioters struck Sicknick in the head with a fire extinguisher. But on Feb. 2, CNN reported that investigators were “struggling to build a federal murder case” regarding Sicknick’s death.
CNN said the FBI was continuing to review photographs and video footage “that show Sicknick engaging with rioters amid the siege but have yet to identify a moment in which he suffered his fatal injuries.” In addition, CNN said law enforcement authorities had reviewed a medical examiner’s autopsy report that disputed the earlier reports that Sicknick was struck with a fire extinguisher.
Federal law defines “murder” as the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” Murder, therefore, requires evidence of premeditation. So for instance, if someone did in fact strike a person with a fire extinguisher and that caused the victim’s death, that would be proof of murder. But once again, we need to emphasize the investigation into Sicknick’s death remains ongoing and no federal criminal charges have been filed.
That said, it is possible that individuals could be charged with murder even if they did not “strike the fatal blow” as it were. If there was proof that two or more people conspired to kill Sicknick, they could all be charged as co-conspirators. There is also the possibility of “felony murder” charges.
This is a legal rule that states when a person intentionally commits one felony and a person dies as an indirect result, that can still be charged as murder even if there was no intent. In other words, if prosecutors can show that people inside the Capitol were committing other felonies, such as seditious conspiracy, and that indirectly caused Sicknick’s death, those people could theoretically be tried for his murder, even if they did not actually assault the officer.
Do Not Post Your Crimes on Facebook–Call a Galveston Federal Crimes Defense Lawyer Instead
The truth is, it will take many months – and probably years – for federal prosecutors and law enforcement to sort out the events of Jan. 6. According to some reports the FBI has received nearly 200,000 tips from people based on video and social media footage of what happened that day. Hundreds of additional people could be charged with some type of federal crime.
But here is another thing to keep in mind: While criminal charges make headlines the day they are brought, the majority of these cases are unlikely to ever proceed to trial. Most of the people charged with criminal offenses arising from the January 6 riots are likely to accept a plea bargain of some sort. And that does not mean that prosecutors are engaged in some sort of coverup: Plea bargaining is how the vast majority of federal and state criminal charges are resolved.
Plea bargains are especially likely in these sorts of cases, where there is video footage of people committing the crimes in question. Indeed, many of the participants in the January 6 riots posted footage of themselves engaging in illegal activities, such as the man who entered Speaker Pelosi’s office. So if there is one takeaway from this story, it is this: Never publish evidence of your own criminal activity.
A second takeaway is that if you are charged with any type of federal crime, you need to speak with a qualified Galveston criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your rights. Contact Mark Diaz today at (409) 515-6170 to schedule a consultation.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.