Some Jan. 6 defendants opt for trial by judge instead of jury
Many defendants in the United States Capitol riot who traveled across the country to Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 are now seeking to move their cases away from jurors in Washington, D.C.
A review of tens of thousands of pages of court records by CBS News shows that more than a dozen defendants on Jan. 6 tried unsuccessfully to move their trials out of the nation’s capital, arguing that the panel of jurors in Washington is potentially tainted with bias, resulting either from the liberal political orientation of its residents or the impact of the riots on the Neighborhood. These defendants have requested a change of location but have so far failed to convince DC judges that a transfer is necessary.
But there is another avenue for these defendants – they can request a trial en banc, in which the defendants plead their case before a judge rather than a jury. In two cases so far, defendants in the Capitol breach have chosen bench trials, putting their fate in the hands of one judge, instead of 12 strangers.
The same judge handled both bench trials and acquitted both defendants on five of the six federal charges at issue, marking the only trial acquittals to date in the handful of U.S. Capitol riot lawsuits to be judged.
Motions to change location
In most cases, defendants would like to move their trials to their home towns or communities, arguing that the chances of a fair trial are greater. A Harrisburg woman who has been linked to the theft of a computer from the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an oath keeper who allegedly committed a seditious conspiracy, a Proud Boy defendant from Florida and a California man who allegedly used a megaphone to taunt the police are among those asking to withdraw their Washington, DC file
Although none of the requests for a change of location have yet been approved by judges, they have taken on added importance over the past month after a DC jury convicted the defendant on January 6.of multiple crimes in less than four hours of deliberations.
In a new filing, defendant Florida Proud Boy Gabriel Garcia claims that “there is an extreme level of bias in DC for defendants of the January 6 Proud Boys, like him.” Garcia’s motion also claims that District of Columbia jurors are “friendly” to prosecutors.
“Sadly, in such a historic prosecution, any conviction of a Proud Boy or Oathkeeper by a DC jury will forever be tainted, questioned, and ridiculed as vigilante-type justice, reeking of political complacency,” declared his motion.
Garcia pleaded not guilty to civil disorder and other federal charges.
In a filing earlier this month, defendant Sean McHugh, who is accused of shouting at police through a megaphone and directing chemical spray at police, also requested the transfer of his file out of Washington, D.C. McHugh claimed in a filing, “A huge proportion of District of Columbia residents either work for the federal government themselves or have friends or family who do.” He added, “Even residents of the district who have no direct connection to the government said they felt deeply traumatized by the events that unfolded so close to where they live and work.”
Garcia recently commissioned an investigation from jury consultant John Zogby to develop as part of his legal strategy. He revealed that nearly 3 in 4 of DC’s 400 residents said they “believe anyone inside the Capitol on January 6, 2021 should be found guilty of insurrection.”
McHugh’s change of location request overwhelmingly alleges residents of Washington, D.C.'[v]According to the government’s theory of the case, McHugh and the other defendants in connection with January 6 took the steps they took to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president, even though he had won the largest share of Because that the government’s theory is that McHugh and others were seeking to nullify the votes of an overwhelming majority of District residents in the only national election in which District residents have a say, in McHugh’s eyes they cannot judge his case fairly.
McHugh pleaded not guilty.
“The effort of so many of the January 6 defendants to move their trials out of DC based on allegations of bias within the DC jury pool is the legal equivalent of a ‘Race of Fools'” , said Michael Greenberger, professor of law at the University of Maryland. “The effort is obviously not to avoid juror bias. Federal jurors across the country have seen and felt the terrible impact of the attack on the Capitol and the devastation caused.”
A judge has rejected a request for a change of venue made by accused conspirator Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell. Caldwell, who pleaded not guilty, argued that DC jurors are exposed to biased media coverage. His motion read, “Jurors outside of the DC media marketplace will be significantly less exposed to nonstop biased and damaging media coverage.”
Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Caldwell “completely presented no evidence of actual bias in the jury panel. His claims that the media coverage “ha[s] prejudiced the district’s potential jury panel” are based entirely on his own speculation.”
Prosecutors have asked judges to dismiss the location change motions reviewed by CBS News, arguing that media coverage and attention to the Jan. 6 riot is not limited to the district, but extends across the entire country.
Greenberger thinks the location change requests are desperate and time-consuming efforts.
“This is an obvious and impermissible attempt to evade the force and organization of DC federal prosecutors in the vain hope of facing less focused and less prepared prosecutions elsewhere,” he said. he declares. “The burden of getting a change of venue is far too great for such a dubious strategic tactic to have a chance of success.”
Trial by judge — not by jury
Of the nearly 775 defendants in the Capitol riot, more than 500 could stand trial. After court operations were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has resumed scheduling trials, including in the January 6 conspiracy cases at the highest level.
In the first jury trial in a Jan. 6 case, 12 constituted men and women spent less than four hours deliberating before convicting Reffitt, of Wylie, Texas. His case was unique in that he had been convicted of carrying a gun while in the crowd, his own son had testified against him, and he had presented no witnesses. or defense testimony.
One of the 12 jurors — who asked CBS News not to identify him by name — said the case was straightforward for the jury. She said it noted the lack of presentation of the defense, and that it was relevant to the jury’s decision to convict Reffitt. “The only time we saw any emotion in him was when his son spoke up,” she said.
In the weeks following Reffitt’s verdict, two other Capitol violation defendants formally opted for trials before a judge, rather than a jury of Washington, DC residents. Both cases were heard by DC District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee.
McFadden acquitted the two men on five of the six counts filed.
In March, the judge founda New Mexico county commissioner, guilty of entering a restricted building on January 6, 2021, but not guilty of disorderly conduct.
Griffin told his supporters in the courtroom that he had won a partial victory at the end of the trial. Asked by CBS News if he recommends other defendants seek bench trials, Griffin said he wasn’t sure. “It’s putting your eggs in one basket, instead of 12,” he replied.
Last week, McFadden declared Matthew Martin, a New Mexico government contractor, not guilty of the four misdemeanor charges against him. In his ruling, the judge found that Martin did not make a noise, invade others, or damage anything inside the Capitol. McFadden said Martin may have also interpreted the movement of some officers as an indication that the crowd was cleared to enter. Nonetheless, Martin’s defense attorney, Dan Cron, told CBS News that each defendant should weigh the risks and benefits of avoiding a jury in favor of a bench trial.
“It can cut both ways,” he said. “If it’s a jury trial, then all 12 have to convict someone, whereas a bench trial only has one person. It can cut both ways.”
The Justice Department’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol continues this week, after CBS News confirmed that the scope of the investigationto include Trump rally organizers and those who may have provided funds for Jan. 6. Nearly 780 defendants have been charged to date, with more than 250 guilty pleas entered and 140 sentences handed down.
On Monday, a jury will continue to deliberate the fate of former Rocky Mount, Va. police officer Thomas Robertson, who is charged with multiple counts, including obstructing Congressional certification of the votes of the electoral college. A separate jury is expected to be convened Monday in the case of Dustin Thompson, an Ohio man also charged with multiple counts, including theft of government property.