Appeals court rejects argument that Democratic-lean of DC’s jury pool makes it unfit for January 6 cases

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A federal appeals court, including two Donald Trump appointees, ruled Tuesday that the Democratic-lean of Washington, DC’s, population does not make its jury pool too biased to try a January 6 Capitol rioter case.

Thomas Webster, a former New York Police Department officer who was found guilty in 2022 of assaulting a police officer during the riot, had challenged his conviction on that and other grounds. His legal arguments echoed public comments about the partisan bent of DC from Trump and his allies about the criminal case the former president faces in the nation’s capital for his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The DC US Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion written by Barack Obama-appointed Judge Patricia Millett and joined by Judges Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, both Trump appointees, rejected the version of the argument put forward by Webster.

“Webster asserts that the District overwhelmingly voted for President Biden and historically votes for Democratic candidates. … That may be,” Millett wrote. “But the political inclinations of a populace writ large say nothing about an individual’s ability to serve impartially in adjudicating the criminal conduct of an individual.”

She pointed to the prosecution of aides to President Richard Nixon for their role in the Watergate cover-up, and wrote that the appeals court “held that District juries could impartially adjudicate other criminal cases arising out of political matters, including Watergate.”

Her opinion also brushed off polling data Webster had offered about the sentiments that the district jury’s pool have about the Capitol attack. The survey of 400 people registered to vote in DC found that they had a “decidedly negative impression of individuals arrested in conjunction with the activities of January 6, 2021.”

The DC Circuit said that “Webster’s focus on the jury pool’s opinion of January 6th and its perpetrators misses the point.”

“We expect jurors to view significant criminal events in their hometown with an unapproving eye, whether it is the January 6th attack on the Capitol, a murder, or an armed robbery spree,” Millett wrote. “Generalized disapproval of criminal conduct — even the specific conduct at issue in a defendant’s case — says nothing about a juror’s ability to be impartial in deciding whether a particular individual committed a crime or not.”

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