Federal judge unleashes scathing critique of DOJ for going too easy on the Capitol rioters

Federal judge unleashes scathing critique of DOJ for going too easy on the Capitol rioters
NARA photo by Jeff Reed

Beryl A. Howell, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, presides over a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on September 14, 2016.

Some legal experts have been highly critical of the Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland for its handling of the January 6 insurrection, arguing that it should be much more aggressive with prosecutions and should be asking for harsher sentences. One of them is Beryl A. Howell, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This week in a scathing critique, Howell slammed the Garland DOJ for not being more forceful in its prosecutions of rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6.

The 64-year-old Howell, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010, declared, "No wonder parts of the public in the U.S. are confused about whether what happened on January 6 at the Capitol was simply a petty offense of trespassing with some disorderliness, or shocking criminal conduct that represented a grave threat to our democratic norms. Let me make my view clear: The rioters were not mere protesters."

Howell attacked the Garland DOJ's prosecutions as "almost schizophrenic," arguing that prosecutors have been too easy on the defendant, even while using harsh rhetoric to condemn the conduct of the rioters. She cited the prosecution of Tennessee resident Jack Jesse Griffith as an example. Griffith was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of parading around the Capitol, which she believed was too lenient for an event that the Justice Department described as an "attack on democracy."

Expressing her frustration, Howell asked, "Is it the government's view that the members of the mob that engaged in the Capitol attack on January 6 were simply trespassers? Is general deterrence going to be served by letting rioters who broke into the Capitol, overran the police.... broke into the building through windows and doors…. resolve their criminal liability through petty offense pleas?.... Probation should not be the norm."

Howell also commented that the amount of restitution prosecutors are requesting is lenient in light of how costly the January 6 riot was.

"Prosecutors also agreed that Griffith, like other misdemeanor defendants, would pay only $500 in restitution," the Washington Post's Rachel Weiner reports. "Howell calculated that if everyone charged paid that fine, it would amount to $300,000, while taxpayers are paying $500 million to improve Capitol security in the wake of the attack."

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