An active duty U.S. Marine stationed at Quantico wants to suspend his Jan. 6 case until an appeals court can determine if the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol constituted an obstruction of an official proceeding.
Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, of Woodbridge, is trying to use a recent ruling in a separate Jan. 6 case to dismiss part of his indictment and wants all proceedings suspended until the issue is decided.
Warnagiris is charged with assaulting an officer, civil disorder, obstruction of the U.S. Congress, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress, entering a restricted building without authority, disorderly conduct in a restricted building, physical violence in a restricted building, disorderly conduct at the U.S. Capitol, physical violence at the Capitol and demonstrating in the Capitol.
Warnagiris is the highest-ranking active-duty military officer charged in the insurrection, according to The Intercept.
The FBI has said that Warnagiris “violently entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, after pushing through a line of police officers guarding the East Rotunda doors.”
The criminal complaint says Warnagiris used his body to keep the door open and pull others inside. Warnagiris can be seen pushing a U.S. Capitol Police officer in an effort to maintain his position in the open door in security camera footage and publicly available video footage, the FBI said.
In March, a federal judge said that the Justice Department cannot charge Jan. 6 defendants with obstructing Congress’s certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory unless the defendants tampered with official documents or records in the attack, according to The Washington Post.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols’ ruling broke with at least seven other federal trial judges who have ruled in favor of the Justice Department’s interpretation of the law, the Post reported.
Nichols’ ruling was in the case of Garret Miller, of Texas, and does not apply directly to any other case. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling in a hope to settle the issue before hundreds of similar cases proceed.
The legal arguments center on the section of federal law that sets a penalty for “whoever corruptly alters, destroys, mutilates or conceals a record, document or other object … or otherwise obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding.” Prosecutors have been charging defendants under the second part of that law, accusing them of obstructing the official proceeding of Congress’ attempt to count the electoral college vote on Jan. 6, 2021.
Nichols’ ruling says that prosecutors cannot separate the two subsections of the law in crafting charges. He says the sections depend on each other and, therefore, obstructing an official proceeding requires specific actions toward “a record, document or other object.”
The Post reported that the subsections were put into law in the wake of prosecutions of accountants and other officials involved in the Enron case, when a loophole was found in which those who shredded crucial documents were not committing a crime.
The issue is scheduled for arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals in December.
If Nichols’ ruling is upheld, it will carry implications for many of the roughly 275 Jan. 6 defendants facing similar charges. Several have been convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, while leaders of the Proud Boys have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
Those who have been found guilty could seek a retrial if Nichols’ ruling is upheld, while others could ask their charges to be dismissed.
Warnagiris’ attorney, Maria Medvin, has asked for the obstruction of an official proceeding charge to be dismissed. However, she is not asking presiding Judge Paul Friedman to rule on her motion to dismiss. Instead, she has asked for Warnagiris’ case to be suspended until the appeals court rules on Nichols’ ruling because she uses his reasoning in her motion.
Warnagiris’ case is scheduled for a status hearing at 1 p.m. Dec. 7.