Watch CBS News

Federal appeals court rebuffs claims of D.C. jury bias in Jan. 6 case

Capitol rioter sentenced to 10 years
Former NYPD officer sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in Capitol riot 04:40

Washington — A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the conviction of a former New York City Police Department officer who was charged for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, after he claimed that he couldn't get an impartial jury in Washington, D.C.

The unanimous three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a ruling Tuesday that defendant Thomas Webster was wrong when he argued that the jury pool in the District of Columbia was too Democratic, too tied to the federal government and too surrounded by news coverage of the Capitol attack to produce 12 unbiased jurors who would decide his case.

Webster sought to have his case moved out of the nation's capital, raising concerns about political bias by the jury pool, but a federal district court denied his request.

In an opinion authored by Judge Patricia Millett, the judges found that nothing in the record suggested that the jury pool had preconceived notions about Webster or knew who he was. They also determined that he failed to show that the district's jury pool is incapable of producing fair juries for people facing charges that stem from the Jan. 6 attack.

"Webster asserts that the District overwhelmingly voted for President Biden and historically votes for Democratic candidates. That may be," Millett wrote. "But the political inclinations of a populace writ large say nothing about an individual's ability to serve impartially in adjudicating the criminal conduct of an individual."

Millett, appointed by former President Barack Obama, was joined by Judges Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, both selected by former President Donald Trump.

The judges rejected Webster's reliance on a poll that purported to measure the sentiments of the D.C. jury pool, which concluded 400 registered voters in the city had a negative impression of those arrested in connection with the events of Jan. 6.

"Webster's focus on the jury pool's opinion of January 6th and its perpetrators misses the point," Millett wrote. "We expect jurors to view significant criminal events in their hometown with an unapproving eye, whether it is the January 6th attack on the Capitol, a murder, or an armed robbery spree. Generalized disapproval of criminal conduct — even the specific conduct at issue in a defendant's case — says nothing about a juror's ability to be impartial in deciding whether a particular individual committed a crime or not."

The panel said that the jury-selection process for Webster's case involved an "exacting search," in which potential jurors were screened with 21 questions that included their ties to the U.S. Capitol and knowledge about the Jan. 6 attack and feelings about Trump or his supporters that could impact their impartiality.

 Prospective jurors then faced additional questions asked in-person and under oath.

In addition to upholding Webster's conviction, the panel affirmed his 10-year prison sentence.

Numerous Jan. 6 defendants have asked to have their cases moved out of D.C. on grounds that they believe the jury pool is tainted by bias, though they've failed to persuade federal judges overseeing their prosecutions. Trump, too, has claimed that he would not get an impartial jury in the nation's capital, where he faces four charges stemming from his alleged efforts to thwart the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election. The former president pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Soon after he was indicted in August 2023, Trump's lawyer told "Face the Nation" that he would seek to have the case moved out of Washington and suggested West Virginia would be a better location. But they have not yet formally requested a new venue, and proceedings have been on hold since December while Trump seeks to have the entire indictment tossed out on immunity grounds. That issue is now before the Supreme Court.

Webster was among the crowd of Trump supporters who attended the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6 and marched to the Capitol. Wearing body armor and carrying a Marine Corps flag, he confronted police officers outside the Capitol and was involved in an altercation with a member of the Metropolitan Police Department, according to court papers.

Webster was accused of charging the officer, knocking him to the ground and pushing his gas mask into his face. The two men broke apart after a roughly 10-second struggle, according to filings.

A grand jury in Washington indicted Webster on five felony counts, including assaulting an officer using a dangerous weapon, and one misdemeanor. A jury then found him guilty on all counts and he received a 120-month sentence.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.