Riot Act

What is the Riot Act?

The Riot Act was a 1714 British regulation outlawing 12 or more people from riotously assembling together. The act was repealed in 1967 eliminating the need to read a mob the Riot Act warning.

What Does it Mean to Read Someone the Riot Act?

Reading the Riot Act required the reading of the following phrase before the act was supposed to be enforced.

“Our sovereign lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”

Reading the ‘Riot Act’ was not just a metaphor. If the group did not disperse within 1 hour after the reading of the “Riot Act” the penalty could have been death.

The Great Britain Riot Act Text
Great Britain Riot Act passed in 1715

What is the Riot Act in the USA?

The United States Federal Riot law is codified in 18 USC Ch. 102: RIOTS. To be enforced on a person the person must travel interstate or in foreign commerce or use a facility of interstate or foreign commerce. This can include and is not limited to mail, telegraph, telephone, radio, or television. There must be intent to:

  1. to incite a riot; or
  2. to organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot; or
  3. to commit any act of violence in furtherance of a riot; or
  4. to aid or abet any person in inciting or participating in or carrying on a riot or committing any act of violence in furtherance of a riot;

The facility of interstate commerce list above does not list but obviously could include the internet. This statute was last amended in 1996.

What is the Punishment for Rioting in the U.S.?

The punishment for violating the riot law in the U.S. is up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

What is a Riot?

A riot is a public disturbance involving violence by one or more people in a group of three or more persons. The act of ‘violence’ is a clear and present danger to or resulting in damage or injury to property or to a person. It is also a ‘threat or threats’ of violence by a person in a group of at least three having the ability to immediately execute the threat or threats against the property or person of another.

What is Inciting a Riot?

Inciting a riot means to organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot. This includes urging or instigating other people to riot.

Inciting a riot is not merely oral or written words. Inciting a riot is not merely advocating ideas or expressing a belief that is NOT advocating acts of violence or the right to commit acts of violence.

What is the Riot Law in Texas?

The riot law in Texas requires a group of seven or more people who:

  1. create an immediate danger or damage to property or injury to persons;
  2. substantially obstruct law enforcement or other governmental functions or services; or
  3. by force, threat of force, or physical action deprives any person of a legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right.

A person has to knowingly participate. Knowingly is defined in the Texas Penal Code 6.03

A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to the nature of his conduct or to circumstances surrounding his conduct when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or that the circumstances exist. A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to a result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result.

If the assembly was at first lawful but then manifested into a riot a person has a defense to prosecution if they retire or disperse from the assembly of rioters.

What is the Punishment for Rioting in Texas?

Rioting is a Class B misdemeanor if prosecuted under Texas law. However, it can be a higher punishment equal to the higher crime committed by anyone engaged in the riot. The person committing the higher level crime must commit the higher offense under the following required criteria to charge the first rioter with the higher offense punishment range:

  1. in furtherance of the purpose of the assembly; or
  2. an offense which should have been anticipated as a result of the assembly.

Which Riot Law Applies State or Federal?

The federal law requires interstate travel or communicate through the above listed channels. If a state wishes to prosecute with their own law the federal prosecution is then prevented.

A judgment of conviction or acquittal on the merits under the laws of any State shall be a bar to any prosecution hereunder for the same act or acts.

18 USC Ch. 102: RIOTS Section 2101 (c)

Texas Riot Punishment Law Proposed Change

Today is September 24, 2020 and Governor Abbott just announced proposed changes to the Texas rioting punishment law.

As stated above the current punishment is only a Class B misdemeanor for rioting under the Texas statute. The proposed legislation increases the punishment to the following:

The Governor’s legislative proposals include the following:

1. Causing injury or destroying property in a riot: Felony offense and mandatory jail time.

2. Striking a law enforcement officer during a riot: Felony offense and mandatory jail sentence of at least six months.

3. Using lasers to target law enforcement officers: Felony offense and mandatory jail time.

4. Blocking hospital entrances and exits by protestors or rioters: Felony offense and mandatory jail time.

5. Using fireworks at protests and riots: Criminal offense and mandatory jail time.

6. Aiding and abetting riots with funds or organizational assistance: Felony offense and mandatory jail time. This will also give the Office of the Attorney General power to pursue civil penalties against people and organizations.

Individuals charged with any of these offenses must remain in jail until their first court appearance.

The above are proposals and would need to be worked on to get the details of the level of felony and fines that could be assessed if convicted. Also there will be a constitutional issue of whether a law could deny the right to bail for someone arrested. The 8th amendment is as follows:

The Eighth Amendment 

  • prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The next Texas legislature is the 87th and will begin this next January 12, 2021 through May 31, 2021. Most of the laws passed during this session will usually go into effect September 1, 2021.

For more information about Attorney Eric Torberson take a look at our home page here

Author: Eric Torberson

Eric Torberson is a licensed attorney in Texas as well as licensed in the federal courts of the southern and western districts of Texas.