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Participating in a Riot - Penal Code 404 PC

Posted by Sam Israels | Nov 10, 2023

California Penal Code 404 PC prohibits someone from participating in a riot. A “riot” can occur when two or more people acting together use force or violence to disturb the public peace or when they make threats to use violence with the ability to execute their threats.

To prove you guilty of violating PC 404, however, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you violated all the elements of the crime.

Penal Code 404 PC - Participating in a Riot
California Penal Code 404 PC makes it a misdemeanor crime to participate in a riot.

PC 404 says, “(a) 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, is a riot.

(b) As used in this section, disturbing the public peace may occur in any place of confinement. Place of confinement means any state prison, county jail, industrial farm, road camp, city jail, industrial farm, road camp, or any juvenile hall, juvenile camp, juvenile ranch, or juvenile forestry camp.”

The prosecutor does not have to show there was a prior agreement between the rioters. Further, a person's presence at the riot scene does mean they are automatically considered a rioter.

PC 404 participating in a riot is a misdemeanor crime that carries up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, but the court will typically grant probation rather than serving time in a county jail.

What Is the Definition of a Riot?

Notably, peaceful protests are lawful in California but become illegal when violent or threatening. To be considered a riot under the law, the public disturbance must have two or more people act together in disturbance of the public peace.

They must also use force or violence as part of the disturbance or threaten the use of force or violence with the immediate ability to carry out the threats.

Participation in a Riot – Quick Facts

There are several quick facts you should know about Penal Code 404 participating in a riot law, such as the following:

  • A typical example of riotous behavior includes physical confrontations with law enforcement that endanger public safety.
  • Not all unlawful gatherings are considered a riot, such as people arguing with each other at a protest.
  • If a gathering blocks traffic without threats or violence, it's not considered a riot, but participants could face other charges.
  • Mere presence at a riot is not always considered participation.
  • To be charged with rioting, you must be a willful participant.
  • The size of the crowd does not always define a riot, as it could be charged with just a few active willful participants.
  • Acting “willfully” means that you acted willingly or on purpose.

What Are the Related Crimes for PC 404 Rioting?

Riot participation frequently occurs with other unlawful activity that can be charged in addition to Penal Code 404, such as the following related laws:

  • Penal Code 404.6 PC - Inciting a riot means to urge others to participate in violent riotous behavior, whether or not you actively participate.
  • Penal Code 407 PC - Unlawful assembly occurs when two or more people assemble intending to commit a crime or disturb the peace. Under this law, violence is unnecessary, only an intent to break the law.
  • Penal Code 409 PC - Failing to disperse is when you refuse to leave a riot or unlawful assembly when ordered by law enforcement.
  • Penal Code 405a - Forcible removal is defined as using force to remove someone from police custody during a riot, a felony crime.
  • Penal Code 415 PC – Disturbing the peace law makes it a crime to engage in fighting, use offensive words, or make unreasonable noises.
  • Penal Code 242 PC - Battery is defined as using force or violence against another person during a riot.
  • Penal Code 594 PC – Vandalism and malicious mischief are defined as damaging someone's property during the riot;
  • Penal Code 602 PC - Trespassing is a misdemeanor crime that carries up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000;
  • Penal Code 647 PC - Disorderly conduct;
  • Penal Code 463PC - Looting;
  • Penal Code 451 PC – Arson. 

What Are the Penalties?

Penal Code 405 PC participating in a riot is a misdemeanor that carries up to one year in county jail and fines of up to $1000.

The court will often order you to pay restitution if any damages occurred due to the conduct. It's also common to be charged with related crimes with separate penalties, such as vandalism during the riot.

What Are the Legal Defenses?

If you're accused of violating PC 404 by participating in a riot, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use several strategies, as discussed below.

Maybe we can argue that you did not willfully participate in the riot. Perhaps you left the area before any violent acts occurred.

Maybe we can argue that the assembly didn't meet the lawful definition of a riot. Perhaps we can say no violence or credible threats occurred and get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Maybe we can argue that you acted in self-defense, defense of others, or property. Maybe we can say your actions were misinterpreted as aggression. Perhaps we can show that your actions were an appropriate defensive response to someone's violent behavior.

Maybe we can persuade the prosecutor not to file formal charges in the first place, known as a “DA reject.” You can contact our law firm for a free case evaluation. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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