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Supreme Court possibly upends scores of Jan. 6 Capitol riot prosecutions, narrows obstruction charge

In a move that could upend scores of Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot prosecutions, the Supreme Court on Friday narrowed the use of a charge of obstructing an official proceeding.

In a 6-3 decision in which Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined the conservative majority and Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with the liberal dissenters, the high court concluded that prosecutors need to hang closer to the statutory language of the obstruction charge used in a slew of Jan. 6 prosecutions.

“The Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or as we earlier explained, other things used in the proceeding, or attempted to do so,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

At issue was a technical reading of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act which stipulates that anyone 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; or otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so” faces criminal liability.

The charge had been used in over 300 prosecutions pertaining to the Capitol riot.

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