Judge Cites Jan. 6 Committee to Reject Alleged Rioter’s Defense

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in Washington rejected a proposed defense from a man accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 riot that he was just following orders of then-President Donald Trump.

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In his opinion Wednesday, US District Court Judge John Bates cited the Jan. 6 committee’s finding that Trump knew it would be illegal to stop the certification of the 2020 election that day. It’s the first time a judge referred to the committee’s findings in issuing an opinion related to the storming of the Capitol.

“The conclusions reached here — that even if protesters believed they were following orders, they were not misled about the legality of their actions and thus fall outside the scope of any public authority defense — is consistent with the Select Committee’s findings,” Bates wrote in a footnote to the opinion.

The defendant, Alexander Sheppard, is charged with six offenses related to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, with social media posts and video showing him inside the building confronting police guarding the doors while members of Congress were being evacuated from House chamber, the judge wrote.

Sheppard sought to use the public authority defense, saying his actions were taken in reasonable reliance on statements made by Trump. The government opposed allowing him to use the defense at trial.

That defense is only available when the official’s statements say or imply that the defendants’ conduct is lawful, Bates said. There’s no indication Trump informed protesters what they would be doing would be legal, the judge said.

The case is US v. Sheppard, 1:21-cr-00203, US District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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