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June 15 2021
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Previous story Few plea bargains in U.S. Capitol riot cases as prosecutors stand firm Next story

STORY BY MARK HOSENBALL

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Some defendants facing lesser charges have been surprised by prosecutors' demands. Prosecutors are also likely focused on amassing as much evidence as they can, she said, hence the requests for defendants to surrender phones and other data.
Published on June 4, 2021 2:22 AM

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Supporters of President Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol during a 'Stop the Steal' protest in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 [Stephanie Keith/Reuters]
Nearly four months after the U.S. Capitol attack, just one of more than 440 people charged has pleaded guilty, a sign of tough conditions set by prosecutors for plea deals and resistance by defense lawyers to their demands.

This reflects the high stakes of cases stemming from the worst violence at the Capitol in modern history, which left five people dead.

U.S. officials have suggested in court hearings that defendants might be interested in pleading guilty, a move that typically can result in a shorter sentence. Prosecutors routinely seek to resolve cases through plea bargains. But legal experts said it is relatively early in this process for either prosecutors or defense lawyers to be reaching quick deals.

Lawyers for more than a dozen defendants said plea talks so far have foundered because prosecutors demanded their clients turn over social media data, cell phones and other evidence, while also pushing for prison sentences they would not accept.

Without plea deals, hundreds of separate trials will move forward, a time-consuming process now extended by a case backlog resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, without evidence provided under plea bargains, federal prosecutors may have a harder time building cases against leaders of the violence on more serious charges such as conspiracy or violation of laws intended to fight organized crime.

The Justice Department has launched a massive investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, when hundreds of supporters of Donald Trump stormed the building after the then-president falsely claimed in a fiery speech that the election had been stolen from him. The mob smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers into hiding.

Many participants also live-streamed their actions on social media or posted pictures afterwards of themselves, making it relatively easy for law enforcement agencies to make hundreds of arrests rapidly.

The charges have ranged widely, from disorderly conduct to assaulting officers and conspiracy...


Background

Nearly four months after the U.S. Capitol attack, just one of more than 440 people charged has pleaded guilty, a sign of tough conditions set by prosecutors for plea deals and resistance by defense lawyers to their demands.

This reflects the high stakes of cases stemming from the worst violence at the Capitol in modern history, which left five people dead.

U.S. officials have suggested in court hearings that defendants might be interested in pleading guilty, a move that typically can result in a shorter sentence. Prosecutors routinely seek to resolve cases through plea bargains. But legal experts said it is relatively early in this process for either prosecutors or defense lawyers to be reaching quick deals.

Lawyers for more than a dozen defendants said plea talks so far have foundered because prosecutors demanded their clients turn over social media data, cell phones and other evidence, while also pushing for prison sentences they would not accept.