Federal prosecutors’ show of leniency for some defendants charged in the long-running unrest in the streets of Portland could have an impact on similar criminal cases stemming from the Capitol riot, lawyers say.
In recent weeks, prosecutors have approved deals in at least half a dozen federal felony cases arising from clashes between protesters and law enforcement in Oregon last summer. The arrangements — known as deferred resolution agreements — will leave the defendants with a clean criminal record if they stay out of trouble for a period of time and complete a modest amount of community service, according to defense attorneys and court records.
Some lawyers attribute the government’s newfound willingness to resolve the Portland protest cases without criminal convictions to the arrival of President Joe Biden’s administration in January and to policy and personnel changes at the Justice Department.
Those moves seemed to step away from the highly public, throw-the-book-at-them stance that President Donald Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr adopted toward lawbreakers involved in racial justice protests that swept across the country last year following the death of George Floyd during an encounter with Minneapolis police.
“Obviously there was a change in direction from Washington, and once they changed the U.S. attorney, that seemed to change the tone,” said John Kolego, a defense attorney based in Eugene, Ore., who handled one of the Portland cases.
“They had their marching orders from Barr before, but the tone is definitely changed,” Kolego said.
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