June 30, 2024

SCOTUS ruling throws possible wrench into Jack Smith's Jan. 6 case against Trump

Special counsel Jack Smith has encountered one hurdle after another in his quest to secure convictions against former President Donald Trump, and on Friday, he was dealt yet another significant blow.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Jan. 6-related case of Fischer v. U.S., which is likely to upend the prosecutions of numerous similarly situated defendants, it may also undermine two of the most serious criminal charges Smith lodged against Trump, as Newsweek reports.

SCOTUS narrows obstruction statute

In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled in favor of a Capitol protestor who was convicted on a federal obstruction charge in a prosecution based on the use of an Enron-era statute.

The law at issue imposes criminal liability on an individual who “alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.”

Joseph Fischer, the man convicted pursuant to a broad reading of the aforementioned statute, argued that the law simply did not apply to the facts of his case and that the statute had, in the past, only been used in matters involving evidence tampering.

Though the Justice Department argued that a broader interpretation of obstruction was permissible under the statute, a majority of the Supreme Court determined that such an outcome would almost certainly ensnare peaceful protestors in a way not contemplated at the time of the law's drafting.

As a result of the ruling, Fischer's case was sent back to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for further proceedings, a development that has the potential to have a similar impact on hundreds of other defendants charged under the statute for similar conduct at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Potential Impact on Trump

Trump is perhaps the most prominent of the Jan. 6 defendants who stand to benefit from the high court's Friday determination, in that Smith's road to a conviction, at least on the two obstruction counts, has become much more difficult as a result of it.

Smith is expected to contend that Trump's obstruction charges are valid even in light of the Supreme Court's opinion, but the ruling is almost certain to spur voluminous motion practice requiring additional delay in a case that is already in jeopardy of stretching far beyond the November election.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, weighed in to Newsweek on the situation, saying, “The Fischer ruling is great news for Trump, just one day after his decisive win in the presidential debate.”

Rahmani further predicted that Smith may opt to drop the obstruction counts against Trump altogether so as to “avoid the possibility of dismissal and guaranteed delays in the case.”

She added, “Smith may get a superseding indictment charging some other type of conspiracy that is settled law. But litigating the obstruction of a proceeding issue unnecessarily is high risk with little reward,” and the whole scenario is yet another obstacle in a case the special counsel seemed to believe was a slam dunk that could remove Trump from the political stage once and for all.

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