Growing evidence delays trials against January 6 riots
In the nearly nine months since Jan. 6, federal agents have tracked down and arrested more than 600 people across the United States who allegedly participated in the riot at the United States Capitol.
Getting these cases to court quickly is proving to be an even more difficult task.
Investigators have gathered a mountain of evidence in the attack and are working to organize and share it with defense attorneys. And this mountain keeps growing with new arrests almost every week.
Clogged with cases: Washington’s federal court, meanwhile, is crowded with cases on Jan.6, more than double the total number of new criminal cases filed there all last year. Further complicating matters are the limits imposed by the court on trials due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The court delays extend a process already questioned by some right-wing lawmakers, who argue that it is a waste of time and money to prosecute people accused of low-level crimes. As court cases continue to stagnate, so do the responses to what happened that day and the possible consequences of the most violent assault on Capitol Hill in a generation. Meanwhile, House Democrats are subpoenaing aides to former President Donald Trump and have requested a wealth of documents as a select committee also investigates the insurgency.
While it’s not uncommon for federal cases to take a year or more to process through the system, some defense attorneys and judges worry that defendants entitled to a speedy trial will end up waiting a long time before they come to court. the tribunal.
“The reason for the delay has not changed or has not even become concrete. He remains as amorphous today as he was months ago, “a lawyer wrote in court documents opposing prosecutors’ request to quash the November trial for Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a former army reservist described by his colleagues as a known Nazi sympathizer.
So far, only around 80 cases have been resolved with guilty pleas – largely by those who have only been charged with minor offenses. Dozens more face serious felony charges including conspiracy, assault on officers and obstructing formal proceedings that call for long sentences behind bars.
Huge survey: The Department of Justice called it the largest investigation in American history, with investigations initiated in 55 of the 56 FBI field offices. Evidence gathered from the attack includes thousands of hours of video footage, hundreds of thousands of tips from the public, and over a million messages, responses, and Talking data. The Justice Department is building massive databases to share all evidence from the attack with defense lawyers.
In the most high-profile case to date, involving more than a dozen members and associates of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, prosecutors recently told a judge that a January trial date for the first group of defendants seemed increasingly unrealistic. given the amount of evidence they still need to end up in the hands of defense lawyers.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said that if they were to wait for prosecutors to turn over “every piece of evidence” they collected in the Jan. 6 investigation – rather than just that relating to a specific defendant – he wouldn’t There will be no trial in any of these cases until 2023. And three of the accused Oath Keepers, accused of plotting to block certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory over Trump, are behind bars.
“I have to keep their interests in mind in a speedy trial here,” Mehta said. “I am concerned about a long period of pre-trial detention,” he added. He did not immediately rule, but did signal that Oath Keepers’ first trial would likely be pushed back to April, with the second scheduled for July.
At least one of the roughly 70 defendants who are locked up ahead of trial has already pointed to delays in efforts to get out of prison. Kelly Meggs, described by authorities as the chief of the Florida section of the Oath Keepers, said in an unsuccessful release request that with a trial in January appearing unlikely, he is effectively being held in “indefinite remand which in the circumstances, amounts to a violation of human rights.
Prosecutors say they are working as quickly as possible in unprecedented challenges to share any evidence that could potentially help the defense and move the cases forward. But new evidence is always uncovered with each new arrest or as analysis is completed on the thousands of hours of video taken during this chaotic day.
Defendants: In Robert Reeder’s case, wheelchair detectives who call themselves Sedition Hunters uncovered new evidence just before he was supposed to be sentenced last month with a recommendation for probation. The video appears to show Reeder brawling with a police officer, going against his claim that he had not participated in any violence that day. Reeder’s lawyer called the clip problematic. A new sentence is set for October 8.
The coronavirus is only making things worse.
Cases were already being saved due to the pandemic, and the court said no more than three trials could be held simultaneously at least until the end of October to allow for social distancing. In one case, a judge recently warned lawyers that there was no guarantee they would be tried as scheduled in February if COVID-19 numbers increased.
The pandemic has also made it more difficult for defendants held behind bars to work safely with their lawyers – an issue that plagues the entire criminal justice system.
“Defense lawyers are just not really able to meet their clients in a consistent manner, are not able to systematically share data or prepare their defense with them in an engaged and consistent manner,” said Jon Lewis , a researcher who followed the Jan. 6 cases for the George Washington University Extremism Program. “It’s a very real problem.
Some defendants, like Hale-Cusanelli, say they no longer want to wait for their chance to defend themselves in court. Hale-Cusanelli is due to stand trial on November 9, but prosecutors say there is no way that is possible. A judge has set a hearing for next week to decide whether to keep that date in place.
A lawyer for the former army reservist accused prosecutors of asking for more time just to “further consolidate their case” against his client, “despite allegedly having enough evidence to indict him.” Prosecutors called the claim “totally unfounded.”
“The government has presented an eminently reasonable explanation for the delay: its relentless efforts to meet the challenges imposed by the huge amount of relevant evidence that it must review, process, categorize and organize in a format that will make it accessible and useful to defense, ”they wrote in court documents.
Prosecutors said Hale-Cusanelli, who worked as a security contractor at a Navy base, used his military training to avoid the effects of pepper spray and tactical hand signals to urge other rioters to move forward on Jan.6. He later described the day as exhilarating from a tipster, praising the “adrenaline, the push, the purpose” he felt, according to court documents.
Hale-Cusanelli’s attorney noted that he was not accused of injuring anyone that day. The defense called him an “opinionated individual” who “fully exercised his right to express himself freely before being imprisoned”.
Richer signaled from Boston, and Whitehurst signaled from Salt Lake City.