Tag Archives: Biden administration

Great Expectations Meet Legal Reality

Politico appears to have joined the ranks of journalists who, having lost their matinee idol (Donald Trump), have turned their attention to throwing dirt at the Biden administration. It’s apparently hard doing political journalism when the President is a normal human being who actually works at his job and doesn’t spend all day demeaning others while praising himself.

In any case, Politico reports that for some reason, not entirely clear to me, the Biden administration may be embarrassed by the prospect that many of the insurrectionists who invaded and debased the Capitol on January 6 may not do much, if any, hard jail time. https://politi.co/3wbBBMj

There is nothing new or surprising about that possibility and no reason for the Biden administration to be “embarrassed” about it.

This click-bait story suggests that it was reasonable to believe that every one of the crazed mob of Trump supporters would be charged with felonies and imprisoned under very long sentences for their crimes. At the same time it notes that the many “lower-level cases” are clogging the District of Columbia federal trial court where all these cases are being “heard.” Those lower-level cases involve misdemeanor charges that typically plead out.

The reason for this is not ‘justice.” If justice were to be had here, all of the people who invaded the Capitol to stop the final approval of Biden’s election victory would be charged with felonies and required to plead to deals involving meaningful jail time.

But practical reality governs in these situations. Mass arrest scenarios rarely lead to jail time for  many who are swept up in the arrest net. This has been true for as long as mass arrests have occurred. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_arrest  The court system simply cannot handle trials of hundreds of people on top of its already heavy case load.

The result is that “deals” are made between prosecution and defense to an agreed sentence, often probation for first-offenders when only property damage is involved, in exchange for a guilty plea that avoids the time and cost of a jury trial. This is true almost regardless of the circumstances, although, as a society, we generally do not treat white people who commit “light crimes” with the harshness meted out to minority defendants.

There is, of course, an unusual amount of visual evidence in these cases — hundreds of hours of video of the crime scene. While the videos show a staggering amount of violence by the mob that led to dozens of injuries to police, it is apparently also true that many of those identified and arrested so far were not actually engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Capitol Police or in physical desecration of the building. These people allegedly just “went along for the ride.” If so, they almost certainly will end up “pleading” to some misdemeanor offense and may indeed be spared jail time. That is an outrage given the threat to our democratic system that they attempted to achieve, but the judicial system simply cannot cope otherwise.

Politico takes this simple reality to the extreme of making a “federal case” out of nothing in stating that,

The prospect of dozens of January 6 rioters cutting deals for minor sentences could be hard to explain for the Biden administration, which has characterized the Capitol Hill mob as a uniquely dangerous threat. Before assuming office, Biden said the rioters’ attempt to overturn the election results by force “borders on sedition”; Attorney General Merrick Garland has called the prosecutions his top early priority, describing the storming of Congress as “a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

Justice Department prosecutors sent expectations sky-high in early statements and court filings, describing elaborate plots to murder lawmakers — descriptions prosecutors have tempered as new details emerged.

Nonsense. There are plenty of serious cases of violence that will lead to meaningful jail time and other penalties for the perpetrators. Many felons remain to be identified and arrested. This is not going away. It was a “uniquely dangerous event.”

The report is accurate in noting the time pressure on the prosecution, but again this is not unusual in mass-arrest cases. Speedy trial is a constitutional right, sometimes ignored, but a right nonetheless. And we can be sure that these virtually all-white “protestor insurrectionists” will get every advantage to which they are accustomed.

Other than the target of this particular mob, and the inspiration for their attack (the former president), there is nothing especially unusual about these cases. Mayhem has degrees just like other violence and the law treats each case individually. It’s likely that violent “protestors” in Portland and other places are facing the same issues, and opportunities, as the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol.

I, at least, deeply hope that none of the Capitol attackers is going to receive what Politico refers to as a wrist-slapping. This attack was not a response to a prior event (as, for example, the protests after George Floyd’s murder) – it had a specific goal: to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty to certify the election. The article refers to people “who walked into the building that day without authorization.” That, I  believe, fails to recognize the gravity of what was happening that January 6. Few, if any, of the insurrectionists just “walked into the building” – the proof is in the videos.

Politico says, “the Justice Department will soon be in the awkward position of having to defend such deals, even as trials and lengthy sentences for those facing more serious charges could be a year or more away.” Again, there is nothing “awkward” about this, beyond the simple inability of the judicial system to cope, in a constitutional democracy, with mass-type arrests, whether all at once or individually later for crimes that occurred together. Politico adds to its hyping of a non-existent issue by noting that Trump continues to lie about what happened on January 6, claiming this adds to the “political awkwardness” of the situation.

Wrong. Trump will continue lying and blathering to his last breath. Except for his die-hard political base, no serious person thinks Trump has any substantive contribution to make to the American political situation. It is certainly and indisputably true that Trump can be expected to keep lying about January 6 in an effort to thwart what he rightly fears as criminal prosecution of himself personally. No one is more deserving.

Unfortunately for journalism, Politico uses a common Trump formula in referencing “what many in the court system are referring to as “MAGA tourists,” a phrasing of unknown provenance (who, actually, are the “many” who call the insurrectionists “MAGA tourists?”) and calculated to diminish the significance of what happened on January 6.

Finally, I note that some of the January 6 defendants continue to run off at the mouth on Twitter and other social media, claiming they did nothing wrong and remain proud of their actions that day. Those defendants should face the full weight of the law – no deals for them. Let them stand trial if they like and face sentencing for their January 6 conduct and their continuing indifferent or outright hostility to the rule of law. Unless the judges in these cases want a repeat of January 6 or worse, they had better take a direct approach to such cases that are deserving of no leniency or special treatment.