Why only 13 Capitol riot suspects have pleaded guilty, even though hundreds have been charged, according to a former federal prosecutor

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Why only 13 Capitol riot suspects have pleaded guilty, even though hundreds have been charged, according to a former federal prosecutor
A scene at the Capitol riot. Brent Stirton/Getty
  • Of the 500+ suspects charged in the Capitol riot, just 13 have pleaded guilty so far.
  • Insider spoke to a former federal prosecutor, Neama Rahmani, who explained the slow process.
  • He said federal prosecutors mostly investigate, rather than process massive amounts of cases.

In the six months since the Capitol riot, a total of 545 people have been accused of taking part in the insurrection.

It's harder to imagine more open-and-shut cases. Many of the protesters livestreamed their experience storming the Capitol, and boasted about it on social media afterwards. Investigators were also able to use surveillance cameras inside the Capitol to capture images of those involved.

So why have only 13 Capitol riot suspects have pleaded guilty so far?

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Insider spoke with a former federal prosecutor last week to better understand the pace of the Capitol riot prosecutions.

Neama Rahmani worked for three years as an assistant US attorney, primarily dealing with fraud and human-trafficking cases. He now runs his own law firm in Los Angeles, West Coast Trial Lawyers.

Why only 13 Capitol riot suspects have pleaded guilty, even though hundreds have been charged, according to a former federal prosecutor
The E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House in Washington, DC, seen on August 23, 2018. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty

Prosecutors aren't used to this many 'reactive cases'

Rahmani said the slow pace of the Capitol riot prosecutions "should be expected" because federal prosecutors aren't used to dealing with a high volume of so-called "reactive cases."

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These are the types of cases that prosecutors at the state and local level, rather than the federal, typically deal with: They "react" to crimes that have already been committed, taking these cases to trial after police have written a report on the crime.

The bulk of work for federal prosecutors, meanwhile, is conducting investigations when they suspect that crimes have been committed.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers last month that the bureau was still investigating hundreds of Capitol riot suspects in addition to those already charged.

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Similarly, state courts are used to processing hundreds of cases, and just a few of those cases make their way up into the federal court system, Rahmani said.

Federal prosecutors are focusing on 'the head of the snake'

Federal prosecutors are also engaged in investigative work into the riot and the bigger fish involved - such as members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

These investigations are likely to be taking precedence over processing the minor offenders, Rahmani said.

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"You really want to get the head of the snake," he said. "That's what we're seeing the US Attorney's Office do, which they're very good at doing."

As for the relatively low amount of suspects who have pleaded guilty, Rahmani said he expects that to change.

He said much of the evidence against these suspects are air-tight, adding: "There's no real legal defense here. You're not going to say it wasn't me. There's cellphone and video evidence."

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"The least-culpable folks who didn't use violence, didn't take property from the Capitol building or members of Congress, they're going to be receiving misdemeanor deals. Obviously the higher-level folks will be offered felony deals and we'll start seeing those soon," he said.

Some 'fringe' suspects may refuse to plead guilty

But Rahmani expects a few cases to make it all the way to a court trial.

"Some of these people are on the fringes politically and ideologically, and believe they were defending our democracy or whatever ludicrous beliefs they have, so they may not take deals no matter what," he said.

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"But these are not the type of cases you can defend. The ones who will end up in court are the unreasonable defendants who want to make a point politically or who have just really lost touch with reality."

You can see Insider's searchable table of all 545 Capitol riot suspects and their charges here.

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