Every American has the right to peaceably assemble. It’s a core value of our nation that we have the freedom to publicly demonstrate for fairer treatment by our government.
But what happens when the peace is broken?
Police departments are becoming increasingly aggressive, and especially lately, they seem to act with the intent to provoke peaceful assemblies. They unleash physical brutality and so-called “less than lethal” assaults, and then as the crowd panics, arrest otherwise law-abiding citizens for “rioting.”
If you or someone you love has been arrested for rioting when you were otherwise engaging in a peaceful protest, it’s important to speak with an attorney as quickly as possible. Your attorney can get you out of custody more quickly and begin work on the charges against you.
What is considered a riot?
A riot is any use or threat to use (with immediate power to execute that threat) force or violence, disturbance of the public peace, by two or more persons acting without the authority of the law.
Participating in a riot is considered a legal misdemeanor and penalties include fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to 1 year in a county jail.
If you are charged with participation in a riot, common defenses include that the police used excessive force and your actions were in self-defense. Or, it might be possible to show that you were not participating in the riot itself. You were simply present.
Failure to disperse at a riot
California law considers it a crime for a person to remain at an unlawful assembly or riot, after having been ordered by the police to leave. This violation is considered a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
Legal defenses against “Failure to disperse” are based on the assembly not being “unlawful,” that you have been falsely accused and/or you have been arrested without probable cause.
Looting or theft
The crime of looting in California is considered the act of burglary, grand theft or petty theft during a state of emergency. A state of emergency can be declared by a local governing body or the governor and are usually the results of severe weather or earthquakes, floods, wildfires or riots.
The penalties vary depending on the kind of theft – looting by grand theft and burglary are considered wobblers in California, which means they can be treated as a felony or misdemeanor. A misdemeanor has a potential sentence of up to 1 year at county jail. If you are convicted of a felony, you are looking at a potential 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in custody. There is a minimum jail sentence of 180 days for both looting by burglary and grand theft.
Looting by petty theft is always considered a misdemeanor with a sentence of at least 90 days and up to 6 months in county jail.
As your legal defense options for looting, it might be possible to argue that you lacked criminal intent, that you were misidentified or that the police who made the arrest violated the “search and seizure” laws.
Defenses against rioting charges
If you or someone you love has been charged with rioting, looting or failure to disperse, your first call should be to an attorney. Police often try to arrest as many people as possible during riots, so a prompt call to an attorney can get you released from custody more quickly.
Evidence is often thin in rioting cases. Depending on the facts of your case, your attorney might also be able to work to get your charges either reduced or dropped entirely.
Robert M. Helfend has served the Los Angeles area since 1984, successfully defending thousands of cases in that time. He is rated by SuperLawyers and is a National Trial Lawyers Top 100 rated attorney. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434.