July 13, 2024

Who Is Tanya Chutkan, the Judge Assigned to Trump’s Jan. 6 Case?

3 min read

By: AJ McDougall

A federal judge with a history of handing out stiff penalties to the more than two dozen Capitol rioters who have come before her was assigned on Tuesday to oversee the D.C. trial of former President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, 61, was appointed to the bench in 2014 by then-President Barack Obama. A former supervisor in the D.C. public defender’s office, she was working as a partner at the firm Boies, Schiller, & Flexner when she was called up to the bench. She was confirmed unanimously in a 95-0 vote by the Senate that same year.

Chutkan has since racked up a record unmatched by any of her judicial colleagues when it comes to sentencing Jan. 6 defendants.

As of last month, Chutkan has had 31 convicted rioters come before her; she has put all of them behind bars. According to data collected by The Washington Post, Chutkan has gone above the prosecution’s recommendation nine times and matched its recommendation 14 times. In a handful of misdemeanor cases where the government was not seeking jail terms, Chutkan handed out sentences of between 14 and 45 days.

In stark contrast, the Post reported, the average sentence in a Jan. 6 case has gone below the recommendation roughly 80 percent of the time.

The 61-year-old has routinely issued strict lectures to accompany her rulings.

While handing down what was then the harshest Jan. 6 sentence yet to sobbing defendant Robert Palmer in Dec. 2021, Chutkan said, “It has to be made clear that trying to violently overthrow the government, trying to stop the peaceful transition of power and assaulting law enforcement officers in that effort is going to be met with absolutely certain punishment. Not staying at home. Not watching Netflix. Not doing what you were doing before you got arrested.”

Two months prior, Chutkan indirectly invoked Trump while incarcerating a rioter who had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally demonstrating in the Capitol. “Mr. Mazzocco did not go to the United States Capitol out of any love for our country,” the judge said. “He went for one man.”

At that same hearing, Chutkan added, “The country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in the country before.”

She has also previously ruled on a Jan. 6 matter directly involving Trump. In Nov. 2021, Chutkan denied the former president’s bid to block the National Archives from turning over records from his administration to the House committee investigating the attacks. Trump tried to invoke executive privilege, but Chutkan ruled against him twice, writing, “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”

After Trump was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday over his attempts to cling to power in the wake of his 2020 presidential election defeat culminating in the Capitol riots Chutkan was tapped to oversee the prosecution in a random draw.

To date, Trump has been indicted in three of the four major criminal investigations against him.

The Mar-a-Lago documents case, also brought by special counsel Jack Smith, is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida. The New York criminal case, which involves alleged hush-money payments to a porn star in the run-up to the 2016 election, is being prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and was assigned to Juan Merchan, an acting justice for the New York County Supreme Court.

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