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The Law on Riot and its Punishments in California

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution recognizes the individual right to peaceful assembly, wherein every US citizen has the freedom to assemble with other citizens in any public place provided that such an assembly:

  • Has a lawful objective or it protests a law that is unconstitutional or an infringement on human rights, political rights, and civil liberty of the citizens.
  • Does or infringe on the rights, and liberties of other people.
  • Does not disturb public order or public peace.

If circumstances arise wherein individuals participating in such an assembly disturb peace by use of threats, force or violence, then such individuals may be held guilty of disturbing public peace or even rioting, unless their actions are proven to be a necessary response, to circumstances beyond their initiative and control, for self-defense or safety of others. In various cases where the excessive or unnecessary force of the law enforcement agencies are proven, this stands as valid self-defense for protestors as the cause of the riot is rooted in the ill-executed law enforcement procedure and not the intent of the gatherers.

California Riot Law

Of the aforementioned offenses, riot or inciting a riot is a serious misdemeanor involving the element of violence. In certain states such as California, if the offender riots or incites a riot in a jail or a prison, then it may even be convicted as a felony. 

Moreover, the State of California also stipulates the element of immediate execution of acts of violence in the offense of rioting, whereas certain assemblies of violent manner may just be deemed as unlawful assemblies.

Definition of Riot

Notified under California Penal Code 404, the criminal offense of riot is defined as an assembly of two or more individuals at a place of confinement wherein:

  • Use of force, threats to use force or disturbance of public peace is accompanied by the power of immediate execution.
  • The said place of confinement includes road camp, county jail, city jail, state prison, juvenile hall, juvenile camp, juvenile forestry camp, juvenile ranch or industrial farm.

Riot Law California

California Penal Code 405 expresses the punishment for the misdemeanor of the riot as a prison term not exceeding one year and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

In case the riot is intended to free someone from the custody of a peace officer, then as per California Penal Code 405A, it is a felony punishable by imprisonment of 2,3 or 4 years.

California also recognizes the offense of inciting a riot under the California Penal Code 404.6, wherein the criminal offense of inciting a riot is defined as an act or conduct of:

  • Urging a riot.
  • Urging others to commit acts of force or violence, damaging or destroying property.
  • At a place, time or circumstance that presents undeniable danger consequent to the acts proposed.

California Penal Code 404.6, expresses the punishment for the misdemeanor of inciting a riot at a prison term not exceeding one year and/or a maximum fine of $1,000. The imprisonment is mandated if the riot results in bodily injury in a prison.

It is pertinent to note that attempting a riot is different from inciting a riot. Inciting a riot carries the ill intent of the offender whereas attempting a riot maybe a spontaneous act incited by someone else. Attempting a riot is also a misdemeanor called rout and it carries a fine of a maximum $250.

Furthermore, if any individual refrains from dispersing from a place that is vulnerable to immediate riots or undergoing riots then such an individual is also guilty of the misdemeanor of routing.


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