Capitol rioter pleads guilty to felony disorder – but he could still get off with no prison time
Rioters clash with police trying to enter Capitol building through the front doors. (lev radin / Shutterstock.com)

A Texas man entered a guilty plea today to a charge that carries five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines in connection with the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. But for those concerned that MAGA rioters are not getting punished severely enough, this one might become a prime exhibit.

Christian Cortez, 28, of Seabrook, Texas, was accused of joining a crowd of rioters who were attempting to break down Capitol doors. He was arrested with co-defendant Benjamin Larocca, 28, also of Seabrook, who pleaded guilty in April 2022 to a misdemeanor charge of engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct.

Cortez was accused of having stepped in front of the Capitol doors while officers were trying to seal them and having begun swearing.

“Cortez can be heard yelling "F*ck you! Oath breakers! Oath breakers! You' re a f*ckin' oath breaker!" according to the FBI criminal complaint. And, it is alleged, he didn’t back off even after getting sprayed by the officers with a chemical irritant.

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“Do it! We're just standing here!" Cortez is said to have screamed while slamming down a blue-colored flag. Citing video evidence, the complaint added: “Cortez takes another step toward officers and thrashes his arms downward, yelling again ‘Do it some f*ckin' more!’

But although Cortez’ conduct was deemed serious enough to rise to a felony, the range of punishment under federal sentencing guidelines – as reported in his plea agreement – is for “0 to 6 months in prison” and a fine ranging from $2,000 to $20,000, a far cry from the $250,000 maximum. The agreement adds, “Your client reserves the right to ask the Court not to impose any applicable fines.”

The disposition of the case will be up to a federal judge at his sentencing, which is set for August 31, and that judge is not bound by the plea agreement. But since Cortez accepts full responsibility and his no criminal record, he is subject to reduction in the federal sentencing guidelines.

To date, some 298 of the more than 840 defendants arrested for the riot have pleaded guilty, according to Business Insider. But most of those pleas have been for misdemeanor parading charges and have resulted in probation, in some cases with brief home confinement.

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It remains to be seen whether Cortez will serve prison time. His case shows, however, that not even a felony plea guarantees that.

You can read the FBI statement of facts in the case here.