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As soon as he appeared in U.S. District Court in Erie on Sept. 30, newly charged with tripping a police officer during the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Mikhail E. Slye claimed his constitutional rights were being violated.
Slye, of Meadville, immediately objected to a federal magistrate judge’s order that barred him from possessing a gun while he is out on an unsecured bond of $10,000.
Slye’s lawyer, an assistant federal public defender, argued in an oral motion that the prohibition violated Slye’s Second Amendment rights.
Slye has lost his argument.
He fell well short in a ruling that homed in on his case and found that the Constitution failed to support his interpretation of the right to bear arms.
The decision, issued Thursday in U.S. District Court in Erie, demonstrated how arguments about the Constitution are playing out in the cases of defendants accused of storming the Capitol over claims about their rights and those of President Donald Trump as he denied his electoral defeat.
In Slye’s case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lanzillo said in his written decision, “the dispositive question” was whether the prohibition against Slye possessing a gun while free on bond “is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
“The Court believes it is,” Lanzillo said.
“The historical fact remains that pretrial detention and its attendant restrictions on constitutional rights have existed since the early days of the Republic,” he also said.
Slye dubbed ‘JackTheTripper’ on website
Slye, 32, is charged with using a bike rack to intentionally trip a U.S. Capitol Police officer during the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He is accused of assaulting, resisting or impeding law enforcement officers, and interfering with a law enforcement officer during a civil disorder, both felonies. He also is charged with six misdemeanors.
An FBI agent arrested Slye in Meadville on Sept. 30. Later that day he had an initial appearance, via video, before Lanzillo, who is seated at the federal courthouse in Erie. Lanzillo made sure Slye understood the charges, and Lanzillo set bond at $10,000, unsecured, as Slye awaits prosecution in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Slye had his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Erie because he was arrested in Crawford County, which falls under the Erie federal court’s jurisdiction.
The evidence against Slye includes surveillance video and videos posted on the internet, according to the criminal complaint, unsealed following his arrest. The FBI in the complaint cited a website called seditionhunters.org, which posts videos and photographs of the riots to to provide information on suspects. Seditionhunters.org dubbed an unknown subject “JackTheTripper” — the person the FBI ultimately identified as Slye, according to the complaint.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lanzillo
The charges against Slye include no allegations that he violated firearms regulations at the Capitol. In a video interview taken of him and several other people outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — a video that the FBI in the criminal complaint also cited as evidence that he was at the riots — Slye makes no mention of the Second Amendment.
Twenty-six minutes into the video, Slye says he is at the Capitol “because I am sick of looking at it through a screen. You don’t know what the truth is unless you see it in 3D.”
Firearms an issue, though release is not
Slye is one of the more than 870 people charged in the riots, including more than 70 from Pennsylvania.
Slye is one of four defendants charged in the Capitol riots to have their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Erie because they were arrested in northwestern Pennsylvania. Another defendant is from Venango, in northern Crawford County, and the two others are from Kane, in McKean County.
At Slye’s initial appearance in federal court — similar to an arraignment — he did not need to make an argument that he should stay out of prison on bond while awaiting prosecution. According to court records, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold did not request that Slye be detained, as long as his bond conditions were similar to those that Lanzillo set for other defendants in the Capitol riots who had their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Erie.
Those conditions included the prohibition of possessing firearms while out on bond, Lanzillo said in his opinion in Slye’s case. He said federal pretrial services maintains that the firearm prohibition “is necessary to protect the safety of its officers who are responsible for supervising defendants on pretrial release,” including officers who are “required to enter the homes and workplaces” of those defendants.
Slye fails in citing U.S. Supreme Court decision
In arguing against the firearm prohibition, Slye’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Aaron Sontz, cited a new U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a New York firearms law. The law required a person to demonstrate “proper cause” or “special need” to get a license to carry a gun.
In a 6-3 ruling in the case, called New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen, the Supreme Court on June 23 struck down the law as an unconstitutional restriction on the Second Amendment.
In looking at Slye’s case in the context of the Bruen decision, “historical reflection leads to a different outcome,” Lanzillo said in his six-page ruling. He said Slye’s case involves a defendant on pretrial release. Releasing defendants on bond, with restrictions, has been an element of the criminal justice system in the United States since the federal Judiciary Act of 1789 established the right to bail in many cases, according to Lanzillo’s opinion.
“The fact remains that history recognized detention as a restriction that could be imposed upon a person who was accused, but not convicted of a crime,” Lanzillo said.
If the courts are allowed to detain a person without bond, thus temporarily depriving a defendant of a wide range of constitutional rights, Lanzillo said, “it would be illogical to conclude” that the courts lack “the authority to impose far less severe restrictions, such as ordering his release on bond with firearms restrictions.”
Lanzillo also said, “Although regulations concerning pretrial release or detention have varied significantly during the 233 years since the Judiciary Act of 1789, all have, in one form or another, authorized restrictions on the right of a criminal defendant to possess firearms.”
Contact Ed Palattella at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.
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