Feb 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judge: DOJ's low-level charges "fostering confusion" about Jan. 6

Jan 6

Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The chief judge presiding over D.C.'s federal court chastised the Republican Party on Thursday for describing the Jan. 6 Capitol attack as "legitimate political discourse," and appeared to lay some blame at the feet of prosecutors for perceptions surrounding the riot.

Driving the news: "A major political party has described what happened on Jan. 6 as legitimate political discourse," Judge Beryl Howell said during a hearing Thursday, per Law.com. "So it bears repeating again and again, this was not legitimate political discourse. This was not a protest."

Howell — during the sentencing of a man who had pleaded guilty to parading, demonstrating and picketing — said the low-level charges that the Justice Department has pursued for some of the Jan. 6 rioters, along with decisions to arrange plea deals for some defendants, could be “fostering confusion” about the gravity of the insurrection.

  • Howell ended up sentencing Brian Stentz, who appeared before the court Thursday, to three years of probation with 14 days of detention and two months of house arrest, per Law.com.

What she's saying: “I have been curious throughout the past year why it is, when there are other petty offenses clearly appropriately applied to conduct on Jan. 6, that the government is choosing to offer pleas to parading, demonstrating or picketing,” Howell said.

James Pearce, the attorney representing the DOJ, replied that decisions about plea agreements are made at the “policy level” of the department and that prosecutors did not see their charging decisions as relevant to discourse surrounding the riot.

  • He added that it wasn't the DOJ's intent to create confusion and that the public may not be paying attention to specific charges.
  • “We do not believe it was legitimate political discourse,” Pearce said about Jan. 6. “It was a criminal event and in many ways an act of domestic terrorism.”

Howell, who was appointed by former President Obama in 2010, has previously slammed the DOJ for not seeking harsher sentences for people who have been found guilty for being involved with the riot.

State of play: Over 100 people have been sentenced for their involvement in Jan. 6, per CNN, and fewer than half of them have received jail time.

Go deeper