WASHINGTON — Paul Hodgkins, a Florida man who made it onto the Senate floor during the Jan. 6 riots carrying a “TRUMP” flag, was sentenced on Monday to eight months in prison, becoming the first Capitol rioter to face time behind bars after pleading guilty to a felony charge.
Hodgkins pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing an official proceeding: Congress certifying that President Joe Biden won the election. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but Hodgkins was facing far less than that after agreeing to plead guilty— his estimated sentencing range was between 15 to 21 months. Federal prosecutors had argued that he should spend 18 months in prison; Hodgkins’ lawyer had argued for no prison time at all.
US District Judge Randolph Moss said that although Hodgkins was part of a larger mob, he “actively and intentionally” participated in an attack that not only threatened the security of the US Capitol but also “democracy itself.” People needed to know that assaulting the Capitol and interfering with the democratic process “will have severe consequences,” the judge said.
However, Moss concluded that Hodgkins had earned a lower sentence than what the government wanted, given his lack of criminal history, early acceptance of responsibility, and “sincere” statement to the court on Monday.
“The court here had to consider both what I think are the extremely damaging events that occurred that day but also who Mr. Hodgkins is as an individual. And as I think is reflected by the sentencing I imposed, I tried to strike that balance,” Moss said.
Hodgkins wasn’t immediately placed in federal custody and will be allowed to self-surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons at a later date. He’ll pay $2,000 in restitution — his part in paying for what the government was estimated was nearly $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol — and spend two years on supervised release once he’s released from a federal prison facility.
Hodgkins is the third person to be sentenced in the Jan. 6 cases. He’s technically not the first person to get a sentence that included incarceration — defendant Michael Curzio, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor crime, was sentenced to six months in jail this month to reflect the time he’d already spent in custody after his arrest. But Hodgkins, who has been allowed to live at home while his case was pending, is the first defendant to get prison time after pleading guilty to a felony.
Hodgkins’ sentence sets a notable benchmark in the more than 500 prosecutions filed to date. Roughly half of the cases pending involve at least one felony count, and the most common felony is the obstruction offense that Hodgkins pleaded guilty to. Judges are not bound by the sentences handed down by their colleagues but do have to consider whether a sentence in a given case is fair compared to how other defendants facing similar charges have fared.
A small but steady trickle of plea deals have started to come down in the Jan. 6 cases this summer, even as the US attorney’s office in DC continues to file charges in new cases against alleged rioters.
Hodgkins addressed Moss before his sentence was announced and asked for leniency, saying that he expected to lose his job and potentially his home if he had to go to prison. He explained that he’d gone to Washington, DC, on Jan. 6 to support former president Donald Trump and participate in a march and hadn’t planned to join an attack on the Capitol; the government had countered that the fact that he brought rope, goggles, and other protective gear were proof he at least came prepared for some kind of confrontation. He made a point of saying that he accepted that Biden is, in fact, president.
“I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am truly remorseful and regretful for my actions,” Hodgkins said.
Hodgkins’ lawyer Patrick Leduc invoked former president Abraham Lincoln’s decision to pardon Confederate officers after the Civil War and argued that allowing Hodgkins to stay out of prison would help heal the country. Moss questioned whether a sentence with no prison time would actually encourage other people to assault the Capitol in the future when they didn’t agree with what Congress was doing. The judge turned Leduc’s argument back on him, noting Lincoln also spoke about the need to preserve the government of the people.
“If we allow people to storm the United States Capitol … what are we doing to preserve our democracy in this country?” Moss said.
Assistant US Attorney Mona Sedky argued that although Hodgkins wasn’t accused of violence against law enforcement or property destruction, the fact that he made it onto the floor of the Senate — and didn’t take advantage of multiple opportunities to turn around and leave — meant he was a core participant in “imperiling democracy.” She said the riots on Jan. 6 taken as a whole represented an act of domestic terrorism and said a sentence with prison time was necessary to deter similar attacks in the future.
Leduc argued it was “gaslighting” to call Jan. 6 domestic terrorism and said it opened the door to using that term to describe previous demonstrations in Minneapolis and Portland that involved violence and property destruction, in apparent references to protests against police brutality and racism last summer, as well as First Amendment–protected activity broadly.
Moss pushed back, saying there was no “plausible argument” that Jan. 6 was just a political protest protected by the First Amendment, noting that some rioters allegedly roamed the hallways saying they were looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and threatened lawmakers. The chambers of Congress were emptied during the “most solemn act” in a democracy of certifying the results of the election, the judge said. Leduc walked back his argument a bit, saying his wording had been “inartful.”
According to Sedky, Hodgkins was one of approximately 50 people who made it onto the Senate floor during the riots, out of the estimated 800 people who went inside the Capitol. He was photographed carrying a large red “TRUMP” flag and sent a selfie to a friend from the Senate floor. Sedky argued that a sentence of 18 months would “send a loud and clear message to other would-be rioters that if and when they are caught they will be held accountable, and that people who might be contemplating a sequel to the Jan. 6 attack will stand down, and there won’t be a next time.”
Hodgkins’s lawyer Leduc tried to argue that this client’s behavior that day was more similar to that of Anna Morgan-Lloyd, another defendant who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count for parading, picketing, and demonstrating in the Capitol and received no jail time. Moss was quick to point out that Hodgkins’ pleaded guilty to a felony charge, which made his case significantly different from Morgan-Lloyd’s, and Leduc acknowledged the point.
Moss credited Sedky’s argument that the lawmakers, staff, and law enforcement officers in the Capitol on Jan. 6 were likely to experience emotional trauma for a long time, if not the rest of their lives. The judge called the Jan. 6 attack a “stain” on the nation, and said that it would make it harder for US diplomats to convince other countries to pursue democracy and for Americans to teach the next generation that democracy stood as the “immutable” foundation of the nation; it also made people question that democracy in the US was as secure as they thought it was before the riots.
The fact that members of Congress had to flee as they attempted to certify the results of an election was “chilling,” Moss said.
After announcing his sentence, Moss wished Hodgkins well and said he hoped that Hodgkins could move past what happened and lead his life as a law-abiding citizen. Hodgkins nodded repeatedly as the judge spoke, but was wearing a face mask that concealed his expression.