On March 8, 2023, new evidence was released in the case of United States of America v. Jacob Anthony Chansley. Mr. Chansley has been identified as the “QAnon Shaman” by much of the media. For his role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot, the US Attorney’s Office charged Mr. Chansley with 1: Civil Disorder; Obstruction of an Official Proceeding; 2: Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building; 3: Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building; 4: Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building; and 5: Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building. On September 3, 2021, Mr. Chansley pled guilty to Obstructing an Official Proceeding and was sentenced to 41 to 51 months of incarceration. The evidence that was released was never provided to the Defense and shows video footage of what looks to be police officers escorting Mr. Chansley around the capitol building.
Regardless of Mr. Chansley’s political beliefs or intent on January 6, 2021, if the US Attorney’s Office had this newly released evidence in their possession, they had a duty to disclose it to Mr. Chansley and his Defense. Brady v. Maryland was a United States Supreme Court case that gave all prosecutors an affirmative duty to disclose any and all exculpatory information or evidence in their possession, that is material to guilt or punishment, to the Defense. Any failure to disclose is a Due Process violation under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. It’s not optional. They have to disclose the evidence. Watching the newly obtained evidence, it is clear that the footage would provide the Defense with a basis to argue that Mr. Chansley was peaceful and that he was following the direction of an official. The new footage provides a reasonable probability that the proceedings against Mr. Chansley would have been different had the footage been disclosed. At the very least, it would have provided the sentencing judge with video evidence of Mr. Chansley walking, peacefully, alongside police officers.
Further, the new evidence may be used to challenge other convictions. If other Defendants who were part of the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot argued that officials let them in and escorted them around the capitol, the new footage of Mr. Chanlsey might be relevant to their cases. It could be used as evidence of intent and that the Defendant believed the event to be peaceful because officials were escorting Mr. Chansley throughout the Capitol.
The United States Constitution is not political and is not limited because of someone’s ambition. The Constitution can be abused by the government for political reasons or by an overly zealous prosecutor wanting a conviction above all else. These things happen. The abuse of the Constitution demonstrates exactly why our founding fathers insisted on its creation: to protect certain rights from abuse by the government and its agents.
Any abuse of the Constitution by a US Attorney is a travesty. What happened in Mr. Chansley’s case happens throughout the United States at every level of prosecution. From the US Attorney’s Office to County District Attorney’s Offices in Pennsylvania, it’s a Criminal Defense Lawyer’s job to hold the prosecution accountable when their client’s rights are violated.
If you live in Southwestern Pennsylvania and have any questions about a Criminal matter, our firm will be happy to speak with you. You can call me at 724-832-2499, text me at 724-858-2744, or schedule an appointment at our Greensburg office, Latrobe office, or Johnstown office.
MARCO F. SYLVANIA, ESQUIRE