Two felony counts against J20 defendents reduced to misdemeanors

DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz issued an order on Wednesday, November 1st reducing two of the felony counts against more than 190 Inauguration Day protestors headed to trial. In an indictment issued in April, each of the more than 200 defendants at the time were charged with at least 8 felonies each–riot, inciting a riot, conspiracy to riot and multiple counts of property destruction. But, on Wednesday, Judge Leibovitz corrected the ‘engaging in riot’ and ‘conspiracy to riot’ charges by reducing them to misdemeanors.

Each defendant is still facing as much as 60 years in prison. “Judge Liebovtiz’ order highlights the absurdity of the prosecution’s efforts to fabricate charges that don’t exist under the statute,” said Sam Menefee-Libey of the DC Legal Posse. The judge concludes in the order that the plain reading of the law, in which there is no felony ‘engaging in’ or ‘conspiracy to riot’ statute is the correct one. This is not the first time an element of the indictment has had to be revised by Judge Leibovitz. In July, at a hearing on multiple defense motions to dismiss the charges, Judge Leibovitz ruled that count 11 was founded on an inoperative version of the assault on a police officer statute. The inoperative version was replaced after grassroots pressure campaigns and investigative journalism shined a light on the abuse of the overly broad statute, and Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff attempted to use the widely criticized and outdated version.

The extreme nature of the indictment has been criticized from the very beginning by community leaders, civil liberties organizations, and defense attorneys alike. The indictment, in which the more than 200 people who were trapped, detained and mass-arrested are charged with at least 8 felonies each, is widely seen as an attempt to intimidate protestors and chill dissent. The first seven trials of the more than 190 defendants going to trial are scheduled to begin November 15th at 9:30am.

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