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Fischer v. United States, U.S. LEXIS 2880 (S. Ct June 27, 2024) (Roberts, J.)

Fischer v. United States, Supreme Court of the United States, decided June 28, 2024.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 imposes criminal liability on anyone who corruptly “alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.” 18 U. S. C. §1512(c)(1). The next subsection extends that prohibition to anyone who “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” §1512(c)(2). We consider whether this “otherwise” clause should be read in light of the limited reach of the specific provision that precedes it.

This case concerns the prosecution of petitioner Joseph Fischer for his conduct on January 6, 2021. That day, both Houses of Congress convened in a joint session to certify the votes in the 2020 Presidential election. While they did so, a crowd of supporters of then-President Donald Trump gathered outside the Capitol. As set forth in the criminal complaint against Fischer, some of the crowd eventually “forced entry” into the building, “breaking windows,” and “assaulting members of the U. S. Capitol Police.” App. 189. This breach of the Capitol caused Members of Congress to evacuate the Chambers and delayed the certification process. The complaint alleges that Fischer was one of those who invaded the building.

In Count Three, the only count now before us, the Government charged Fischer with violating 18 U. S. C. §1512(c)(2). Fischer moved to dismiss that count, arguing that the provision criminalizes only attempts to impair the availability or integrity of evidence. The District Court granted his motion in relevant part. It concluded that the scope of Section 1512(c)(2) is limited by subsection (c)(1) and therefore requires the defendant to “‘have taken some action with respect to a document, record, or other object.’” 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45877, 2022 WL 782413, (DC, Mar. 15, 2022) (quoting United States v. Miller, 589 F. Supp. 3d 60, 78 (DC 2022)).

To prove a violation of Section 1512(c)(2), the Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or as we earlier explained, other things used in the proceeding, or attempted to do so. The judgment of the D. C. Circuit is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. On remand, the D. C. Circuit may assess the sufficiency of Count Three of Fischer’s indictment in light of our interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2).