Rioters, Facing 10 Years, May Walk
5 Deaths and Major Threat to Democracy, But Only a Small Fine
Although the rioting, destruction of property, and threats to legislators have been widely denounced as having created a major threat to our democracy, and resulted in the death of at least 5 people, there is no indication that any of the criminals will be charged in accordance with a recent Executive Order, issued June 26, 2020, which directs prosecution for crimes which carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The Order states in part that:
"It is the policy of the United States to prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal law, and as appropriate, any person or any entity that destroys, damages, vandalizes, or desecrates a monument, memorial, or statue within the United States or otherwise vandalizes government property. The desire of the Congress to protect Federal property is clearly reflected in section 1361 of title 18, United States Code, which authorizes a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment for the willful injury of Federal property.. . . . The Federal Government will not tolerate violations of these and other laws." [emphasis added]
While it is possible that additional and more serious charges will be brought in the future against those already arrested, or that additional individuals will face serious felony charges with lengthy prison sentences, prosecutors in past demonstrations which degenerated into criminal violence have often tended to lower, rather then raise, the charges, and many criminal rioters walked with no prison time.
Thus, despite the seriousness of these riots, those who might consider additional unlawful demonstrations - e.g., connected with the coming inauguration - may have little to deter them, since paying a modest fine, or even spending a few days in jail, may seem to be a small price to pay for their cause.
It's also not clear whether any of the criminal rioters will be sued - e.g., in a class action civil tort law suit - for the extensive damage they caused not only to federal property, but also to expensive equipment owned by media outlets, and the personal property of other individuals.
Such suits, in which each individual participant could have imposed a multi-million dollar civil judgment for all of the harm caused by all of the criminal rioters, could also serve - as they sometimes have in the past - as a major deterrent, says Banzhaf.