First felony sentencing in Jan. 6 riot today

A little later today in Washington, D.C., there’s going to be a scene playing out in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that’s being described as a “benchmark” for the hundreds of other trials of individuals charged in the January 6th riot on Capitol Hill. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss will be sentencing Paul Allard Hodgkins of Florida for his role in the attack. Hodgkins pleaded guilty to a single count of obstructing an official proceeding in June, and the sentence he receives today will be seen as a clue as to what the other participants can expect if they enter similar pleas.

The prosecution is asking for 18 months behind bars. (The maximum sentence for this crime is 20 years.) But his attorney is asking for probation without jail time. As with most plea bargains, don’t be surprised if the final sentence falls somewhere in between. (Associated Press)

A Florida man who breached the U.S. Senate chamber carrying a Trump campaign flag is scheduled to become the first Jan. 6 rioter sentenced for a felony, in a hearing that will help set a benchmark for punishment in similar cases.

Prosecutors want Paul Allard Hodgkins to serve 18 months behind bars, saying in a recent filing that he, “like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy” by forcing lawmakers to temporarily abandon their certification of Joe Biden’s election victory and to scramble for shelter from incoming mobs.

Video footage shows Hodgkins, 38, wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt, the flag flung over his shoulder and eye goggles around his neck inside the Senate. He took a selfie with a self-described shaman in a horned helmet and other rioters on the dais behind him.

Hodgkins’ attorney is arguing that his client will already be punished with a lifetime of shame and being “branded with a scarlet letter” for his involvement in the riot. Prosecutors counter that the defendant boarded a bus in Florida “carrying rope, protective goggles and latex gloves.” This, they say, speaks to intent and proves that he headed to the Trump rally “prepared for violence.”

It’s the lack of serious involvement by Hodgkins that makes this case the benchmark to watch. He had no priors and is not accused of committing property damage or assaulting anyone. The basis for charging him with this felony rests entirely on the fact that he stepped onto the Senate chamber floor. (He also posed for a selfie there with the Qanon Shaman.) Others who remained off of the chamber floor have already pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and been sentenced to probation.

If they can put Hodgkins behind bars, even for a year, then you can bet we’ll see prosecutors asking for much longer sentences for any participants who stand accused of property crimes or assault. But if the judge accepts the defense’s claims that this was a “momentary lapse of judgment” and a case of “following the crowd” and lets him off with probation, the hundreds of other defendants will likely be fighting for plea deals with similarly lenient sentences.

In some ways, Hodgkins has become something of a victim himself here, by being pushed into the spotlight as a test case. (Not that he shouldn’t face justice for the crime he has already pleaded guilty to.) Democrats who describe the riot as an “insurrection” and some sort of treasonous attempt to overthrow the government will be looking for the stiffest sentence possible, while Republicans who have played down the seriousness of the incident will be hoping for leniency. Those arguments are still being mirrored in the mainstream media every day. And let’s not pretend that the courts aren’t sensitive to that sort of public pressure.