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November 4, 2021

Should veteran status justify reducing or increasing the sentences of January 6 rioters?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP piece headlined "Feds seek tougher sentences for veterans who stormed Capitol."  The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

During his 27 years in the U.S. Army, Leonard Gruppo joined the Special Forces, served in four war zones and led a team of combat medics in Iraq before retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel.

During his six minutes inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Gruppo joined a slew of other military veterans as a mob of pro-Trump rioters carried out an unparalleled assault on the bastion of American democracy.  He’s among dozens of veterans and active-service members charged in connection with the insurrection.

Now, cases like his are presenting a thorny question for federal judges to consider when they sentence veterans who stormed the Capitol: Do they deserve leniency because they served their country or tougher punishment because they swore an oath to defend it?

The Justice Department has adopted the latter position. In at least five cases so far, prosecutors have cited a rioter’s military service as a factor weighing in favor of a jail sentence or house arrest.  Prosecutors have repeatedly maintained that veterans’ service, while commendable, made their actions on Jan. 6 more egregious....

Prosecutors’ arguments about rioters’ military service didn’t sway one of the first judges to hear them — at Gruppo’s sentencing hearing last Friday.  “I don’t view his military service that way. I just can’t bring myself to do that,” Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said before sentencing Gruppo to two years of probation, including 90 days of house arrest....

In most criminal cases, judges typically view a defendant’s military service as a mitigating factor that favors leniency, said James Markham, a professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  But he recognizes how the Justice Department could conclude that rioters with military experience should be held to a higher standard than those without it.  “It’s obviously not related to their military service directly, but it’s also not entirely conceptually unrelated that somebody who is a veteran or had military service could be viewed as having a more refined understanding of the importance of civilian control and electoral stability,” said Markham, a lawyer and Air Force veteran.

More than 650 people have been charged in the Jan. 6 attack. Some of the rioters facing the most serious charges, including members of far-right extremist groups, have military backgrounds.  A handful of riot defendants were on active duty, including an Army reservist who wore a Hitler mustache to his job at at a Navy base.

More than 100 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors punishable by a maximum of six months of incarceration. Two dozen had been sentenced as of Friday.  At least three of the sentenced defendants are veterans, according to an Associated Press review of court records.

In September, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sentenced Air Force veteran Derek Jancart to 45 days in jail for joining the riot.  Prosecutors had sought a four-month jail sentence for Jancart, an Ohio steelworker....  Another Air Force veteran, Thomas Vinson, was sentenced on Oct. 22 to five years of probation.  Prosecutors had recommended three months of house arrest for Vinson, a Kentucky resident who served in the Air Force from 1984 through 1988....

At least two other rioters who served in the military are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming days.  Prosecutors have recommended two months in jail for Boyd Camper, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1987 to 1990...  Prosecutors are seeking two months of house arrest for Air Force veteran Jonathan Ace Sanders Sr., who is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. 

Some of many prior related posts:

November 4, 2021 at 09:22 AM | Permalink


It should be aggravating for 14A, sec. 3 purposes, previous swearing to uphold the Constitution grounds -- after involvement in an insurrection -- for denial of state and federal office.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 4, 2021 11:11:13 AM

I still haven't thought about this for a generic veteran, one who never got beyond the low enlisted ranks, but it sure as hell should be aggravating for a lieutenant colonel.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 4, 2021 11:29:07 AM

Have to say I agree with Soronel on this one.

I don't see why the quoted professor needed to mince words over it either, aside from that's what law profs exist to do. ("more refined understanding of the importance of civilian control and electoral stability"? Way to both understate and obfuscate at the same time.) Really it's quite simple. The whole point of a military is to protect the country. (Maybe that's overly idealistic, but indulge me ok?) If you turn around and try to overthrow the national gov't, you're betraying the very purpose of military service and harming the very public that you're supposed to be protecting.

So I guess I have to disagree with the word-mincing prof on this one. Far from being "not related to their military service directly" it actually goes quite "obviously" to the heart of what that service means.

It's disappointing that Howell didn't see it that way. A little surprising too since I recall she voiced support for dealing with the insurrectionists more severely. Other parts of the article (which I will peruse in full per the OP's suggestion) note that Howell grew up as an Army brat (don't mean that disparagingly). The article further states that Howell "believes most Americans would have 'enormous respect' for [the defendant's] service." To that I would paraphrase TP and say "I like veterans who didn't try to destroy democracy." In other words, it's entirely possible—and should create no cognitive dissonance whatsoever—to continue to respect veterans who didn't go insurrectionist while heaping plenty of opprobrium on those who did.

Posted by: kotodama | Nov 4, 2021 2:03:44 PM

Since all these prosecutions are being done in bad faith and the courts are in some cases kangaroo-style, why should any time be given to any of these defendants? It's becoming clear that the FBI provoked much of it no harm was cause to anyone, the people were let in by the capitol police and none of the far more violent and murderous actors in other riots both in DC and within the United States.

All charges should be dropped forthwith and any convictions reversed.

Posted by: restless94110 | Nov 5, 2021 3:23:04 PM

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