The founder of Cowboys for Trump was found guilty on March 22 of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.
U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, said Couy Griffin broke the law because he was aware he was in a restricted area and didn't leave that day during the breach of the U.S. Capitol.
Griffin, one of three members of the Otero County Commission in southern New Mexico, crossed over three walls, needing help from others or a ladder to get over them, the judge noted, though Griffin never went inside the building.
“All of this would suggest to a normal person that perhaps you should not be entering the area,” McFadden said from the bench in federal court in Washington.
The judge decided on the charges against Griffin because the defendant opted for a bench trial versus a jury one.
“If I was anywhere except Washington, D.C., I would say, ‘Go with a jury trial,’” Griffin told reporters outside the courthouse. ”You can’t get a fair jury trial in Washington, D.C., if you’re someone like me, a strong conservative.”
Griffin faces up to one year in prison following the conviction.
McFadden rejected the other charge brought by prosecutors, that Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
“Arguably, he was trying to calm people down, not rile them up,” he said.
The second charge could have brought up to another year in jail.
Both charges were misdemeanors.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 17.
"We're halfway pleased. Of course, we wanted, we went in there expecting full exoneration. It just didn't happen today," Griffin said.
Griffin is to remain free on personal recognizance until sentencing.
Griffin's team tried making the case that the defendant didn't violate the law because then-Vice President Mike Pence was evacuated outside the restricted area before Griffin went onto the Capitol grounds. A Secret Service agent testified on Monday that Pence was taken to an underground parking area, with disagreement over whether the location still met the restricted area criteria. McFadden suggested it did prior to handing down the verdict.
In a filing entered hours before the decision, Nicholas Smith, one of Griffin's lawyers, argued that Griffin should be acquitted on both counts because Pence was not "temporarily visiting" the Capitol even if he was present because the vice president has a permanent office in the building and is president of the Senate.
"Just as the judge would not 'temporarily visit my chambers,' the vice president does not 'visit' his own office at the Capitol, particularly when he is in his role as president of the Senate, as on January 6," Smith wrote.
Restricted buildings or grounds is defined in the law as the White House or its grounds, the vice president's official residence or its grounds, or a building or grounds where a person protected by the Secret Service "is or will be temporarily visiting."
Prosecutors argued against the effort, asserting Pence rarely went to the Capitol and was temporarily visiting the building.
McFadden denied the motion for acquittal before rending the verdict.