The Corner

Law & the Courts

Insurrectionist Terrorist (or Is It Terrorist Insurrectionist?) Gets, Yes, an Eight-Month Sentence

Pro-Trump protesters storm into the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A federal judge has imposed an eight-month term of imprisonment in the first sentencing on a felony charge stemming from the Capitol riot.

The sentence was imposed on Paul Allard Hodgkins, a 38-year-old from Tampa, by Judge Randolph Moss, an Obama-appointee to the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C.

In a widely seen photo, Hodgkins was depicted in Trump regalia and brandishing a Trump flag near the presiding officer’s desk in the Senate chamber on January 6.

Notwithstanding the overwrought political rhetoric by congressional Democrats and Biden administration officials, particularly Attorney General Merrick Garland, portraying the riot as an atrocity on par with such terrorist mass-murder strikes as the 9/11 attacks, the Justice Department did not charge Hodgkins with anything like a terrorism crime — no charge of sedition or insurrection. He was instead permitted to plead guilty to a single count of obstructing a congressional proceeding.

In order to inflate the gravity of the misconduct, the Justice Department has been hyping the potential exposure of up to 20 years’ incarceration prescribed by the relevant obstruction statute. But the statutory terms are general, applying to all offenders guilty of obstructing congressional proceedings, no matter how serious or comparatively trivial the conduct.

As I have countered, what really matters in these cases is the application of the federal sentencing guidelines, which assess the real-world conduct and criminal history of the specific defendant a judge is called on to sentence after a guilty plea or jury verdict of guilt.

Here, for all their huffing and puffing, the prosecutors urged an 18-month sentence. Such a recommendation would, of course, be inconceivably paltry in an actual case of terrorism or insurrection. Yet, Judge Moss properly concluded that the Justice Department’s recommendation was more than twice as harsh as what Hodgkins’s behavior merited.

That doesn’t mean Moss was dismissive of the riot. In imposing sentence, he pointed out that Hodgkins had joined a mob that threatened the Capitol and undermined democracy — “damage,” the court observed, “that will persist in this country for decades.”

Still, the judge illustrated that one can be appropriately condemnatory of what happened on January 6 without being swept away by a demagogic political narrative.

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