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Judges Differ on Capitol Riot Terms, Many Prosecutor Pleas Rejected

An Ohio couple climbed through a broken U.S. Capitol window and livestreamed a video of themselves inside. A Texas mortgage broker posed for a selfie in front of rioters. An Indiana hair salon owner celebrated on Facebook after she joined the mob. Federal prosecutors did not seek prison time for any of them after they admitted to petty offenses for their actions on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan put them all behind bars, describing it as the appropriate punishment for their participation in the riot that halted the certification of President Biden’s victory, sent lawmakers running and left dozens of police officers beaten and bloodied. As nearly 200 people have been sentenced for crimes in the insurrection, judges are divided over how to punish the rioters, particularly for low-level misdemeanors, the Associated Press reports.


Chutkan, a former public defender appointed to the bench by President Obama, has consistently taken the hardest line against Jan. 6 defendants of any judge serving on Washington, D.C.’s federal trial court, which is handling more than 800 cases brought in the largest prosecution in Justice Department history. Chutkan has handed out tougher sentences than the department was seeking in seven cases, matched its requests in four others and sent all 11 riot defendants who have come before her behind bars. In the four cases in which prosecutors sought no jail time, Chutkan imposed terms ranging from 14 days to 45 days. Overall, the 20 judges who have sentenced riot defendants have given lighter sentences than prosecutors were seeking in nearly three-fourths of the cases. No judge besides Chutkan has exceeded prosecutors’ recommended punishment in most cases assigned to them. In one case, two friends from Indiana pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor for engaging in essentially the same conduct. Prosecutors did not seek jail time for either, noting their lack of a criminal record. Chutkan sentenced one to14 days in jail. A different judge put the other on probation. More than 300 people have pleaded guilty in connection with the insurrection to crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felony seditious conspiracy. Five others have been convicted at trial. A judge decided two cases without a jury, acquitting one defendant and partially acquitting the other.

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