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Participating in a Riot

George Floyd died on Memorial Day, after then-police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes after Floyd was already handcuffed. Chauvin has since been charged under Minnesota law with second degree murder. Floyd’s murder follows the shooting death of Breonna Taylor and the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

These killings have sparked intense protests throughout our country and the State of California. While most protests have started as peaceful assemblies of people exercising their First Amendment rights, some have devolved into violence.

Can you get arrested for continuing to participate in a protest after it has turned violent?

California’s Penal Code defines rioting as “any use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by two or more persons acting together, and without authority of law.” (Pen. Code § 404(a).)

It should be emphasized that a peaceful protest is not a “riot” under California law even if it is a bit raucous. Rather, a protest becomes a “riot” only after the introduction of violencee.g., through destruction of property, assaults on police officers or bystanders, or threats of violence “accompanied by immediate power of execution.”

Participating in a riot is a crime. (Pen. Code § 405.)

Defense against a riot charge

Under California law, a person is not guilty of rioting for merely being present at a protest. That is the case even if the protest turns violent. To be found guilty of rioting, a person must, at a minimum, participate in the violence or himself or herself threaten violence. The strongest defense, therefore, is insufficient evidence of participation.

This defense is typically strong in rioting cases arising from political protests. In most political protests turned violent, police arrest large numbers of people on the assumption that everyone present is involved in the violence. In many of these cases, however, there is insufficient evidence of participation on the part of the person charged.

Have you or a loved one been charged with participating in a riot?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, and we at Second Chances Law Group fervently believe, “conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots … Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” To that end, we encourage all to stand together, stand up for one another, and do so in compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a participating in a riot, contact our experienced attorneys right away. Our attorneys have not only successfully defended clients against accusations of violence, we are well-versed in what your rights are under the First Amendment.