The old adage that “crime doesn’t pay” is often literal in the legal system. The participants in the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, are learning the hard way that crime does not pay, no matter how many online donations they receive or book deals they seek.
Prosecutors have asked that the court fine Markus Maly, sentenced for assaulting a police officer at the Capitol, $16,000 after he raised that same amount from an online campaign. Nathaniel DeGrave was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine after raising $120,000 online after alleging he was a political prisoner of President Biden. Federal authorities seized $62,000 from John Earle Sullivan after Sullivan sold video footage of himself to various companies. Some defendants have even agreed to surrender profit they obtain from book or movie deals regarding their roles in the attack.
So far, judges have imposed at least $124,127 in fines against thirty-three defendants this year alone. In the previous two years, judges ordered more than a hundred such defendants to collectively pay more than $240,000 in fines. However, not every defendant is being ordered to pay a criminal fine. Peter Schwartz was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for attacking police officers with a chair, but was not ordered to pay any fines even when prosecutors requested a $70,000 fine against him.
Why Do Prosecutors Want to Seize Donations?
The legal system generally prohibits people from prohibiting off their crimes. If criminal defendants can make money by breaking the law, then more people will be incentivized to break the law. As a result, prosecutors will generally seek to take back the cash that bank robbers steal or that shoplifters make if they sell stolen property. The government has a strong incentive not to have an incident like the January 6 attacks repeat again and these fines are a tool to discourage this kind of attack from happening again.
Indeed, the fundraising success of these defendants suggests that too many people still view Jan. 6 attackers as patriots. Donald Trump himself has fueled that idea, pledging to pardon defendants if he is elected. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has also stated he is considering pardoning these defendants.
These donations also provide a justification to increase the prison time that many of these defendants are facing. Many of these insurrectionists are pleading guilty and declaring how remorseful they are to reduce their sentences. At the same time though, many of them are online claiming to be political prisoners and stating they have done nothing wrong. If a defendant is committing perjury about their guilty plea, they may face a greater sentence than they anticipated.
What about the Right to an Attorney?
Many of the Jan. 6 defendants who have been fined or had their money seized claim they were merely raising money to hire an attorney. While every American has a right to hire an attorney of their choice, many of these defendants were provided a public criminal defense attorney at the taxpayers’ expense. Many such defendants were blatantly lying to a judge about needing money to hire an attorney while their attorney was provided by the government without any monetary
contribution by the defendant. Many Jan. 6 defendants are all too willing to steal from taxpayers in addition to assaulting Congress.
What about the Right to Free Speech?
Many of the attorneys of the Jan. 6 defendants who are fined argue their clients are only exercising their right to free speech. “Until they admit they committed a crime, they’re perfectly entitled to shout from the rooftops that the only reason they’re being held is because of politics,” It’s just First Amendment political speech.” Indeed, one of the main criticisms of civil asset forfeiture is that the government seizes property before a defendant is even charged.
However, many of the Jan. 6 defendants are making such statements while concurrently pleading guilty or awaiting trial. If a defendant has plead guilty but claims to be a victim of political persecution, they are either lying to the court or defrauding donors – either one is illegal. If a defendant is awaiting trial, a prosecutor can show the jury the defendant’s social media comments as evidence of intent or motive. A defendant who breaks into the Capitol in order to make money is obviously motivated to do so more than a political protestor who decides not to enter the building.
Should I Consult an Attorney If My Property Is Being Seized by the Government?
It is essential to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to civil forfeiture. Your attorney can review your case, advise you of the civil forfeiture laws of your state, and represent you in court.
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