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Federal court hands win to Capitol riot defendants, rules they may be eligible for release

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that a mother-son duo who face charges in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot may be eligible for a pretrial release, arguing that they do not pose a continued danger to the public. 

The appeals court for the Washington, D.C., Circuit ruled that Lisa Eisenhart and her son, Eric Munchel, who face multiple charges including conspiracy and violent entry or disorderly conduct, “had a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy on January 6 because of the electoral college vote tally taking place that day, and the concurrently scheduled rallies and protests.”

Writing for the majority, Judge Robert Wilkins argued, “Because Munchel and Eisenhart did not vandalize any property or commit violence, the presence of the group was critical to their ability to obstruct the vote and to cause danger to the community.”

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“Without it, Munchel and Eisenhart—two individuals who did not engage in any violence and who were not involved in planning or coordinating the activities—seemingly would have posed little threat,” Wilkins added. 

While Democratic appointees Wilkins and Judge Judith Rogers stopped short of ordering the release of the mother and son, Trump appointee Judge Gregory Katsas argued in his partially dissenting opinion that the lower court decision blocking the release of the two rioters should be immediately reversed. 

“During the chaos of the Capitol riot, Munchel and Eisenhart had ample opportunity to fight, yet neither of them did,” Katsas wrote, adding that because the presidential transition has since taken place, the potential threat posed by the mother and son on Jan. 6 “has long passed.” 

Friday’s ruling provides a win to defendants in cases related to the pro-Trump mob attack, in which multiple people died amid the chaos, and could serve as a model for future cases involving more of the hundreds of individuals who face charges in connection with the riot. 

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled last month that Eisenhart and Munchel, who was photographed inside the Capitol climbing over seats in the Senate gallery while wearing tactical gear and carrying zip ties, posed a “clear danger to the republic” in ways that would have troubled former President George Washington.

In court filings, prosecutors argued that Munchel and Eisenhart took the plastic zip ties off a table inside the Capitol building to prevent police officers from restraining rioters. 

Quoting Washington, Lamberth wrote, "The very idea of the power of and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government."

"Indeed, few offenses are more threatening to our way of life," Lamberth added.