Orange County Rioting & Looting Defense Attorney
The right to peacefully protest is protected by the first amendment and all citizens are allowed to safely express their misgivings with the government or the state of their nation. Protesting injustices is a major part of California’s history and many important legislative acts have been pushed forward as a result of everyday citizens exercising their first amendment rights. However, some protests can turn violent, leading to high levels of property and stolen goods. The media often characters these events as riots and looting, and these labels carry over in how law enforcement responds.
If you or a loved one has been charged with rioting or looting in Orange County, immediately contact the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free (888) 478-8999. Our lead Orange County defense attorney can review your case and advocate for your rights with a strong legal defense. Do not let your rights be taken away. Pick up the phone today.
Rioting-related crimes are covered under California Penal Code 404 PC and are defined as a crime involving two more people who are disturbing the peace or using or threatening to use force or violence. This broad definition can constitute several different scenarios, including a group of armed individuals who threaten violence against a government official, a group who vandalizes a neighborhood, or a group of prisoners who attack correctional officers.
Rioting charges can take multiple forms under California law, including:
- Participating in a riot – Penal Code 404 PC
- Inciting a riot – Penal Code 404.6 PC
- Unlawful assembly – Penal Code 407 & 408 PC
- Disturbing the peace – Penal Code 415 PC
- Failure to disperse at the scene of a riot – Penal Code 409 PC
- Failure to disperse at the scene of a public disturbance – Penal Code 416 PC
The specifics of each charge vary in terms of what the prosecution must prove to secure a conviction and what penalties a defendant can be charged with.
Participating in a Riot
To prove a defendant participated in a riot, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant was with a group of two or more people, willingly participated in violence, or willingly threatened violence. Defendants cannot be charged with participating in a riot if they were nearby or if there was no way for you to fulfill a threat of violence or force.
Inciting a RiotInciting a riot means that a defendant intended to urge people to riot, commit violence, or vandalize property. A defendant does not have to participate in said riot and only needs to urge a group to riot to be charged with inciting a riot.
Unlawful assembly occurs when two or more individuals gather together with the intent to commit a crime or do something legal in a violent way, such as a peaceful protest that turns into a riot. This law was developed to encompass situations where a defendant is freely practicing their first amendment rights to a lawful assembly, but the defendant then engages in a riot.
Disturbing the Peace
This broad charge covers all illegal efforts to engage in a fight, threaten a fight, or even make unreasonable noise. Most people have used it to refer to a party that was too loud, but it can also include threatening to fight someone at a bar or intimidating someone into a fight. In the context of a riot, a defendant can be charged with disturbing the peace if the protest they are involved in was too loud or disruptive, even if the participants were not violent. It can also be a lesser charge from participating in a riot.
Failure to Disperse
Failure to disperse can apply to two different laws: failing to disperse from a riot and failing to disperse from a public disturbance. In both instances, the police must warn a defendant that they must disperse or they will be arrested. If they are warned and do not leave the scene, they can be charged with failure to disperse.
Looting is a broad theft crime that applies specifically to states of emergency. States of emergency can include riots, earthquakes, and wildfires. To charge a defendant with looting, the prosecution must prove the defendant committed one of the following crimes during a state of emergency, including:
- First-Degree Burglary: Stealing property from a residence
- Second-Degree Burglary: Stealing property from a non-inhabited dwelling or business
- Petty Theft: Stealing property worth less than $950
- Grand Theft: Stealing property worth more than $950
For all of these crimes, a defendant must unlawfully enter a building and take property they did not own during a state of emergency. States of emergency can be declared on a state or local level, either by a city council in Orange County or the California Governor’s office.
Charges of rioting will vary depending on the specific crime committed, but generally are misdemeanors or wobblers. In California, you may be charged with and sentenced to:
- Participating in a riot: Misdemeanor sentence of up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 or probation
- Inciting a riot: Misdemeanor sentence of up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 or probation
- Unlawful assembly: Misdemeanor sentence of up to six months in a county jail or probation
- Disturbing the peace: Infraction or Misdemeanor sentence of up to 90 days in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $400
- Failure to disperse at the scene of a riot: Misdemeanor sentence of up to six months in a county jail or probation
- Failure to disperse at the scene of a public disturbance: Misdemeanor sentence of up to six months in a county jail or probation with the possibility of restitution
Looting, similarly, will depend on the specific theft crime you are being charged with, which can lead to:
- First-Degree Burglary: Misdemeanor sentence of up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 with the possibility of community service
- Second-Degree Burglary: Felony sentence of up to 16 months or two to three years in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000 with the possibility of community service
- Petty Theft: Misdemeanor sentence of six months in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 with the possibility of community service and probation
- Grand Theft: Wobbler with the same penalties as a misdemeanor or felony burglary conviction
Even a misdemeanor charge can drastically impact your life, especially if you were wrongfully convicted or peacefully protesting. That is why it is imperative that you secure a strong legal defense.
Riots are complicated events that have many sides to them. You may have been part of a peaceful protest that turned violent or were simply passing through the area when the riot occurred. In each case, an experienced attorney can analyze the evidence and facts to build a defense against serious charges, either leading to a lesser charge or complete dismissal of your case.
Remember, it is the prosecution’s duty to prove the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, your attorney can employ a variety of defense strategies to have your charges dismissed, such as:
- You did not participate in the riot or looting
- You were peacefully protesting and did not act violently or instigate violence
- You were attempting to leave the scene of the riot or public disturbance when you were arrested
- Police committed misconduct when arresting you, such as excessive force
- You had no intent to loot a business and were lawfully there when the state of emergency was declared
- Police arrested you as you were leaving a building without probably cause
- Mistaken identity
The specifics of your case will change your defense strategy, which is why it is imperative that you speak to an attorney as soon as possible after an arrest. Attorney Michael Guisti can launch an in-depth investigation into your case by collecting witness statements, surveillance footage, and other details that prove your innocence. In addition, he can also negotiate with the district attorney to have the charges dropped based on a lack of evidence.
To ensure you receive the best defense possible in Orange County, contact the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti. Our Orange County criminal defense attorney can provide a sound legal defense, whether you were charged with a rioting- or looting-related crime. Call us today at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free (888) 478-8999.
Whether you're facing a felony or a misdemeanor, don't risk a conviction. Act quickly to redeem your reputation and protect your record by consulting with our Orange County criminal defense lawyer. Call today to schedule your free consultation.