The legal victory handed to former North Cornwall police officer Joseph Fischer, charged with multiple crimes relating to the violent Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of the U.S. Capitol, has been overturned by a federal appeals court.
Federal prosecutors allege that Fischer was part of a violent mob that illegally entered the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Fischer was fired from the North Cornwall Township Police Department. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Fischer had originally been charged by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia with obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and tampering with a witness, victim, or informant.
Despite its misleading title, tampering with a witness, victim, or informant makes it a felony to alter, destroy or mutilate a record, document or other object with the intent of making it unavailable in an official proceeding, or to “otherwise” obstruct, influence, or impede any official proceeding.
It is the most serious charge against Fischer, carrying a potential 20-year prison sentence.
Last year, Fischer convinced a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss that charge, arguing that its language does not cover violent or assaultive behavior and therefore Fischer did not “otherwise” obstruct, influence, or impede Congress.
The government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and, on April 7, a three-judge panel voted 2 to 1 to reinstate the charge.
Unless a further appeal is filed, Fischer’s case will go back to the District Court where he will face trial on all of the original charges.
Writing for the court in a 107-page opinion, Judge Florence Pan noted that Congress was not able to resume its work for six hours and that the government alleges that:
“On January 6, 2021, [Fischer] encouraged rioters to ‘charge’ and ‘hold the line,’ had a physical encounter’ with at least one law enforcement officer, and participated in pushing the police.”
“Before January 6,” the judge continued, “[Fischer] allegedly sent text messages to acquaintances, stating: ‘If Trump don’t get in we better get to war’; ‘Take democratic [C]ongress to the gallows. … Can’t vote if they can’t breathe … lol’; and ‘I might need you to post my bail. … It might get violent. … They should storm the capital [sic] and drag all the democrates [sic] into the street and have a mob trial.'”
The appeals court ruling in effect means that those allegations, if the government can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt, would support a conviction of tampering with a witness, victim, or informant and a potential 20-year sentence.
No trial date has been set.
Fischer can appeal further and ask for a rehearing before the full 11-member District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Calls to Fischer’s federal public defender, Eugene Ohm, had not been returned by publication time.
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