January 6th Defendant Matthew Martin was charged with entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.
Rather than take a plea deal, which happens about 99% of the time in Federal Court, he opted to forego a jury trial with a DC jury and had a bench trial in front of U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden. After a two-day trial, the judge made his ruling.
There were two critical choices by Martin’s defense team. The first was not to roll over and take a plea deal. Prosecutors generally charge as many counts as they can to put pressure on defendants to plead to one charge and dismiss the rest. If a defendant goes to trial, as Martin did, they have exposure to everything. Mandatory minimums can add up quickly to large amounts of jail time and judges will sometimes impose a “trial penalty” if you lose, meaning sentencing defendants to jail or longer terms than if they would have taken a deal.
The second big decision was to have a bench trial. Defense attorneys usually avoid bench trials because judges have seen everything and are not swayed by mere arguments like a jury may be. In this case, the defense team must have known there was a good chance the judge would follow the law regardless of external pressure (a big if) and they must have had great facts they could prove. Their research also must have shown that DC juries would be hostile to either their client or their theory of the case. With all these factors present, it would make sense for the defense to make the unusual decision to opt for a bench trial. Clearly, they made the right decision.
This case is not just a win for Mr. Martin but the victory will start to put pressure not only on Federal Prosecutors but judges in other January 6th cases. It just takes one win like this to pop the illusion of invincibility of prosecutions cases and the courage of one judge to follow the law gives cover to the rest of the judiciary if faced with a comparable situation. The verdict in Mr. Martin’s case has the potential to completely change the narrative and the rest of the outstanding cases.