Speed Reads

Heavy Crime and Light Punishment

Top Jan. 6 federal judge slams DOJ for treating 'crime of the century' as some 'petty offense'

Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the federal District Court in Washington, D.C., sentenced Jan. 6 rioter Jack Griffith to three years of probation on Thursday, but she clearly wasn't happy about it. Prosecutors had requested three months in jail for the crime Griffith pleaded guilty to, "parading" — or demonstrating inside of the Capitol — but Howell said her "hands are tied" because prosecutors had requested probation for other defendants who pleaded guilty to similarly light second-tier misdemeanors.

"Probation should not be the norm," Howell said. "In all my years on the bench, I've never been in this position before, and it's all due to the government, despite calling this the crime of the century, resolving it with a . . . petty offense" that would normally be resolved with a $50 fine. Even the government's $500 fines for most Jan. 6 defendants are excessively lenient, she said, noting they would only raise as much as $300,000 of the $500 million taxpayers will shell out to secure the Capitol.

More than anything, Howell sharply questioned the Justice Department's "muddled" and "almost schizophrenic" prosecution strategy. "No wonder parts of the public in the U.S. are confused about whether what happened on Jan. 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," she said. "Let me make my view clear: The rioters were not mere protesters."

"Everyone participating in the mob contributed to that violence," Howell said, and "the damage to the reputation of our democracy, which is usually held up around the world . . . that reputation suffered because of Jan. 6."

Howell, an Obama appointee, "has taken a leading role in pressing prosecutors to consider the broader threat to democracy that the riot presented when considering charges and punishment for participants," Politico reports. But in a separate Jan. 6 case on Thursday, Trump appointee Judge Trevor McFadden got tart with two defendants, Rachel Lynn Pert and Dana Joe Winn of Florida, for requesting to be sentenced over video. 

"Defendants found the means to travel to Washington, D.C., to commit the crime to which they have pled guilty," McFadden wrote. "Defendants can therefore find the means to return to Washington, D.C., to be held accountable for this crime."