A federal judge on Monday handed down the first prison sentence for a felony against a rioter on the Capitol.
Paul Hodgkins, 38, was sentenced to 8 months in prison and must pay $ 2,000 in restitution costs.
Former prosecutors say this set a precedent for other rioters on Capitol Hill to plead guilty early and accept responsibility.
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A federal judge on Monday sentenced a rioter on the Capitol to 8 months in prison, less than half of the 1.5-year sentence requested by prosecutors.
Paul Hodgkins, 38, traveled to Washington, DC from Florida in January to support former President Donald Trump, according to a criminal complaint. After Trump’s January 6 rally near the White House, Hodgkins traveled to Capitol Hill, where Congress was in the process of certifying the 2020 election in favor of President Joe Biden. The complaint states that Hodgkins entered the building at around 2:50 p.m., about 30 minutes after the two chambers of Congress were evacuated.
Hodgkins was ultimately charged with three separate violations, although he pleaded guilty to only one count of obstructing due process. While prosecutors did not charge Hodgkins with damaging the building, they noted during sentencing that Hodgkins brought a flag, rope and white gloves to the Senate floor, which they equated to “intimidation.”
Former prosecutors and legal experts told Insider the judge’s decision to halve the prosecution’s sentence sets a precedent: if the Capitol rioters plead early and accept responsibility, they will likely receive a lighter sentence .
Joel Hirschhorn, a criminal defense attorney with Florida-based law firm GrayRobinson, told Insider that one of the likely reasons for Hodgkins’ sentence reduction was how quickly he pleaded guilty.
“We don’t have access to confidential pre-sentence investigation reports, but I think this sentence is an accounting principle that all defense lawyers are familiar with: FIFO, or first in, first out,” Hirschhorn said. “This means that the first litigants and first cooperators usually get the best deals.”
First appeals help government deal with hundreds of cases of rioting on Capitol Hill
Neama Rahmani, former federal prosecutor and founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider that admitting fault and taking charge can help reduce a sentence.
“Acceptance of responsibility is a very important principle that judges regard as people who plead early,” said Rahmani. “They are saving government resources and saving judicial resources, because there will be defendants here who are also on the margins of politics to take these cases to court.”
As of mid-July, at least 582 people had been charged with insurgency-related crimes and 16 people had pleaded guilty to the riot.
Rahmani said federal courts are used to handling longer investigations against “high profile individuals” and are not equipped to deal with large volumes of “reactive crimes”. In other words, the federal court system is not set up to try hundreds of break and enter or trespassing cases quickly, so Rahmani said he had to find a way to sort out the cases. riots on the Capitol.
For example, according to a recent report from Insider’s C. Ryan Barber, federal prosecutors told lawyers for several rioters that defendants who set foot on Senate soil would be convicted of felony even if they entered into a plea deal. This message could encourage earlier pleadings and free up court resources, as defense attorneys would theoretically spend less time negotiating a petty misdemeanor charge for their clients.
Federal sentencing guidelines are not set in stone
When determining a sentencing benchmark, prosecutors and judges are advised to refer to federal sentencing guidelines. The convicted person accumulates “points” based on their criminal history, the nature of the offense and other factors.
Using federal sentencing guidelines, the United States Probation Office calculated Hodgkins’ “adjusted total offense level” to be 14, which equates to 15-21 months in prison.
The United States Supreme Court gave federal judges more discretion in sentencing when it ruled in 2005 that judges do not need to follow the Federal Guidelines Manual, so the judge United States District Randolph Moss had the power to override the probation office’s calculation in the Hodgkins case.
Moss explained during sentencing that Hodgkins’ conduct was intolerable, but said he did not view Hodgkins as dangerous.
“It is essential to send the message that this type of conduct is totally unacceptable and that serious damage has been done to our country that day,” Moss said. “But at the same time, I don’t believe Mr. Hodgkins, other than making some really bad decisions that day … he’s a threat.”
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