by Christina Nolan, US Attorney for Vermont
This statement is issued in response to inquiries received over the last two days from the press and the public regarding the violence in Washington D.C. and whether our office will investigate and prosecute perpetrators.
The storming of the Capitol was a reprehensible act that marked a dark, tragic, and appalling moment in the history of the country. It placed many in great danger and we grieve for those who suffered. We mourn the indelible wound to the psyche of the nation. We denounce the violence in the strongest terms.
Peaceful protest and freedom of assembly are vital American rights and traditions that we should all support and defend no matter the viewpoint espoused. But when peaceful protest devolves into violence, the conduct should be roundly condemned and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Some in Vermont have asked where potential prosecutions should occur. The Constitution provides that a criminal defendant has a right to a trial in a venue where the crime occurred.
The fact that a person resides in a particular state does not, in itself, mean that the state’s state or federal courts are proper venues for the prosecution of that individual. Instead, generally speaking, to have venue in a jurisdiction, there must be sufficient evidence that some part of the criminal offense occurred in that jurisdiction. Thus, speaking hypothetically, if a citizen of Vermont traveled to Washington D.C. for the sole purpose of participating in a peaceful protest (legal conduct), but during that protest spontaneously decided to commit a crime against the United States, or other unlawful acts, that crime would be prosecutable in courts in the District of Columbia, not in Vermont.
But in a situation where a part of the illegal activity occurred in Vermont or otherwise had a connection to Vermont – such as an individual conspiring in Vermont to commit a federal crime in Washington D.C. (for example, destruction of federal property, arson, or assault on a federal officer) and then traveling to D.C. and committing that crime – then there would be venue in federal court in Vermont, assuming we had all the necessary evidence to charge. (Importantly, this is not the only fact pattern under which we would have venue in Vermont, merely one illustrative example.)
As always, our office would need to carefully consider any evidence assembled by law enforcement before initiating a prosecution. Finally, in providing this explanation, our office is not suggesting that we have any actual, current information about crimes prosecutable in Vermont. We do not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
We hope for, and support, the prosecution of those who committed violence and desecration against our American government buildings, institutions, proceedings, and people. We must all do our part to defend the rule of law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont remains committed as ever to prioritizing prosecution of violent crime and pursuing cases of national import where we have venue and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
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