All Capitol Rioters May Not Be Charged

Justice Department debates whether nonviolent suspects should go free
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2021 10:50 AM CST
All Capitol Rioters May May Not Be Charged
US Capitol Police hold rioters at gunpoint near the House chamber on Jan. 6.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Since the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, investigators have been working to identify and arrest the rioters. Now, prosecutors are considering what to do with them, the Washington Post reports. About 800 people breached the building, but among that group, some people committed acts of violence and caused destruction, while others appeared to be moving inside with the flow of the crowd. Some officials in the Justice Department and FBI don't want the latter group charged. "If an old man says all he did was walk in and no one tried to stop him, and he walked out and no one tried to stop him, and that’s all we know about what he did, that's a case we may not win," an official said. Most of the people who have been arrested don't have criminal records, another said. Those suspected only of committing illegal entry might avoid charges.

The other side of the argument is that all cases should be prosecuted to the maximum to deter future such attacks. "There is absolute resolve from the Department of Justice to hold all who intentionally engaged in criminal acts at the Capitol accountable," a spokesman said, per the Post. One concern is the effect the crush of cases could have on DC federal courts, which handled just 430 cases in 2019. Cases could change as defendants decide to cooperate and provide evidence against other rioters. And the strategy of defendants blaming former President Trump, which several lawyers have floated, could sway the court—especially if Trump is sanctioned—and lead to acquittals that prosecutors want to avoid. More than 135 people have been charged in the attack so far. The deaths of five people have been attributed to the riot, per the Hill. (One of the rioters has been charged with threatening Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.)

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