Trump-Appointed Judge Won't Dismiss Obstruction Charges Against Accused Capitol Rioters

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled on Friday he won't throw out obstruction charges in cases for two men accused of participating in the U.S. Capitol riots on January 6.

Friedrich, a Trump-appointee, ruled to keep the obstruction charges in the Justice Department's case against Nathaniel DeGrave and Ronald Sandlin who were charged for allegedly storming the U.S. Capitol to try and stop Congress' process for certifying the Electoral College vote of President Joe Biden's presidential win, according to the indictment.

DeGrave and Sandlin allegedly broke the law by attempting to stop the proceeding from moving ahead by "engaging in disruptive conduct" and assaulting police officers, the indictment said.

"The indictment in this case alleges obstructive acts that fall on the obviously unlawful side of the line," Friedrich wrote in his decision.

Defense attorneys asked for the obstruction charges to be thrown out for DeGrave and Sandlin because they claim the certification of the electoral results is not an "official proceeding," therefore the men could not "obstruct, influence and impede" the process.

However, Friedrich disagreed with the defense and said under the law, the electoral results are an official proceeding.

If found guilty and convicted of obstruction, DeGrave and Sandlin face up to 20 years in prison. Two other rioters, Jacob Chansley and Paul Allard Hodgkins, were also charged with obstruction and pleaded guilty. They were sentenced to 41 months and 8 months, respectively, for their roles in the riots.

Capitol Riot, January 6, Washington
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled on Friday that an obstruction charge applies to the Justice Department’s case against Ronald Sandlin and Nathaniel DeGrave. Above, insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Defense lawyers have asked other judges presiding over Capitol riot cases to dismiss the same charge on related grounds.

Friedrich also concluded that the obstruction charge covers a broader set of acts than what the defense lawyers contended.

However, on Saturday, Friedrich deferred ruling on whether the same obstruction charge applies in a separate case against Guy Reffitt, a Texas man accused of leading a group of rioters up the Capitol steps to confront law enforcement officers. The judge said it is unclear, based on the indictment alone, what actions Reffitt allegedly engaged in to obstruct the congressional proceeding.

"For this reason, the Court is inclined to defer ruling on his vagueness challenge until the facts have been established at trial and the jury has had an opportunity to consider that evidence," Friedrich wrote.

A day before Trump's January 6 "Stop the Steal" rally, Sandlin and DeGrave drove to Washington, D.C., with two pistols, knives, a stun gun, walkie talkies, bear mace and paramilitary gear, according to prosecutors. The men pushed several Capitol police officers guarding a door to the Capitol rotunda and went to the Senate gallery, where they wrestled with officers to get inside, prosecutors said.

John Pierce, an attorney for DeGrave, a Las Vegas resident, declined to comment on the ruling. A lawyer for Sandlin, a Tennessee resident, didn't immediately respond Monday to an email seeking comment.

Approximately 700 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot.

Donovan Crowl, an Ohio man charged with conspiring to attack the Capitol with other members of the anti-government Oath Keepers, has asked a different judge to throw out the obstruction charge against him. Applying the obstruction statute to somebody like Crowl "will chill the First Amendment rights of all Americans," his lawyer, Carmen Hernandez, said in a court filing Monday.

Friedrich's ruling on Friday "mentions the First Amendment only once in passing without addressing whether the defendant's protest activity on January 6 was protected by the First Amendment or the First Amendment implications of stretching the obstruction statutes in a novel manner beyond any application in 100 years of obstruction prosecutions," Hernandez wrote.

Former President Donald Trump nominated Friedrich to the court in 2017.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Capitol Riot, January 6, 2020 Election
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled on Friday he won't throw out obstruction charges in cases for two men accused of participating in the capitol riots on January 6. Above, crowds gather outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021, in Washington, DC. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images