Jacob Chansley, arguably the most iconic figure of the January 6 protest at the U.S. Capitol, today pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding.
Chansley, 33, turned himself in to law enforcement and was arrested on January 9. A grand jury indicted Chansley two days later on six nonviolent counts including obstruction, civil disorder, and “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.” The remaining counts will be dropped.
Judge Royce Lamberth accepted Chansely’s plea agreement with Joe Biden’s Justice Department, which continues to arrest and charge Americans for even minor involvement in the Capitol protest. Nearly 200 defendants face the obstruction charge, a felony added to mostly misdemeanor cases. (I explained the charge here in March.)
Lawyers for some January 6 defendants are challenging the charge in court, insisting it does not apply to political protests or the certification of the Electoral College. One federal judge last month warned prosecutors the obstruction charge suffers from a “constitutional vagueness problem.”
Several defendants have pleaded guilty to obstruction; in July, Paul Hodgkins, who was with Chansley in the Senate chamber on January 6, pleaded guilty. Like Chansley, Hodgkins has no criminal record and was not accused of committing any violent crime. Biden’s Justice Department wanted Hodgkins imprisoned for 18 months, describing the Trump supporter as a “domestic terrorist”; Hodgkins’ lawyer asked for probation. Judge Randolph Moss sentenced Hodgkins to eight months in prison.
Chansley already has been in jail for nearly eight months, which means if Judge Lamberth reaches the same sentencing decision as Judge Moss, Chansley will have served out his sentence prior to his plea.
Lamberth at least twice denied Chansley’s release even after ordering Chansley to undergo a psychological examination in May. Albert Watkins, Chanlsey’s attorney, informed the court that his client, like so many January 6 defendants, had been in solitary confinement conditions for “22 or 23 hours a day.”
In July, Judge Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, refused to release Chansley despite his awareness of Chansley’s serious mental health issues. “While the court takes seriously defense counsel’s representation that Chansley’s mental health has declined while in jail . . . the Court will not revisit its prior finding that no conditions of release would reasonably prevent him from fleeing,” Lamberth wrote in his ruling.
Joe Biden’s Justice Department still wants to keep Chansley behind bars until his sentencing hearing on November 17. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall, the prosecutor handling the case, asked Lamberth to deny the motion for release, claiming she had “concerns over the safety of [his] community.”
Lamberth did not rule on the motion today but told Watkins he would rule as soon as possible.
UPDATE: Joe Biden’s Justice Department asking for 41-51 months in prison. Read the plea agreement HERE.