Penal Code 404 PC | Rioting

Penal Code 404 PC | Rioting

Rioting can be a confusing topic. What exactly is considered a riot under the law? When does a peaceful protest cross the line into illegal behavior? What are the punishments for rioting? This article will break it all down in plain English so you understand Penal Code 404 PC.

What is Rioting Under California Law?

Section 404 of the California Penal Code defines rioting as two or more persons acting together to use force or violence that disturbs the public peace. It doesn’t matter whether their goal is lawful or not—the use of force or violence to achieve it is illegal.

Some examples of rioting include:

  • A group that gathers in the street and refuses to disperse when ordered by police
  • Protestors who vandalize buildings or throw objects at police
  • Sports fans who flood the field or court and attack the other team or fans

The key is the use of force or violence that breaches public peace. If a protest stays peaceful, it’s not a riot even if it inconveniences people by blocking traffic, for example. But once violence enters the equation, it becomes an unlawful assembly.

What’s the Difference Between a Riot and a Protest?

The line between a protest and a riot is when violence or force is introduced. Here are some examples to illustrate the distinction:

  • Protestors lock arms to block access to a building – This is peaceful civil disobedience, not a riot.
  • Protestors attack police officers and damage property – This crosses the line into rioting.
  • A large crowd gathers in the street and refuses to disperse when ordered by police – This could be declared an unlawful assembly and turn into a riot if force is used.

As you can see, the key factor is whether force or violence is involved. Peaceful protests—even illegal ones involving civil disobedience—are not riots under California law.

What Are the Punishments for Rioting in California?

Rioting is a misdemeanor in California, carrying the following punishments:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

However, rioting becomes a felony if serious injuries or property damage in excess of $5,000 occurs. Felony rioting can lead to:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison
  • A fine up to $10,000

Rioting that causes great bodily injury or $25,000 in damage becomes a wobbler offense, meaning the DA can choose to charge it as a misdemeanor or felony. This carries up to 3 years in county jail or up to 4 years in prison.

As you can see, California takes rioting seriously, especially if people get injured or property is damaged. Participating in a riot can leave you with a criminal record and jail time even if you didn’t directly hurt anyone or damage anything yourself.

What Are Some Legal Defenses to Rioting Charges?

Just being present at a riot doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be convicted. Here are some common legal defenses:

  • You didn’t actually participate – Being a passive observer or failing to disperse when ordered doesn’t constitute rioting. The prosecution must prove you were an active participant.
  • No violence/force occurred – If the gathering remained peaceful, it wasn’t legally a riot. Violence or force is required.
  • Misidentification – Mistaken identity is common in chaotic scenes. If the prosecution can’t prove you were there and involved, you should be acquitted.
  • Self-defense – Using reasonable force to protect yourself against an imminent threat is allowed under California law.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the evidence against you and build a strong defense to rioting charges. Don’t just plead guilty—make sure your rights are protected.

What Are Some Other Related Offenses?

Rioting charges often accompany other criminal offenses, such as:

  • Trespassing – Refusing to leave private property when ordered.
  • Resisting arrest – Physically struggling against police.
  • Battery – Intentional, unlawful use of force against others.
  • Vandalism – Damaging, defacing or destroying property.

These enhance the main rioting charge and expose you to additional penalties. A skilled lawyer can often get accompanying charges reduced or dismissed through plea bargaining.

What Should You Do if Charged With Rioting?

Don’t panic or lose hope. Here are some tips if you find yourself facing rioting allegations:

  • Remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately.
  • Don’t try to explain yourself to police.
  • Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
  • Follow your lawyer’s advice about whether to plead guilty or go to trial.
  • Be cooperative with your attorney and share all relevant information.

With an aggressive legal defense, many rioting charges can be reduced or dismissed. Don’t take chances with your future—protect your rights at all costs.

The Bottom Line

Rioting is defined as two or more people using force or violence to disturb the peace. It crosses the line from peaceful protest to criminal behavior. If charged with rioting, build a strong legal defense focused on your lack of participation, misidentification, self-defense or other exonerating circumstances. With skilled legal help, you can avoid harsh penalties like felony convictions and years in prison.

We hope this overview of Penal Code 404 PC helps you understand rioting charges in California. Stay safe out there and know your rights!