Rioting Laws in California - PC 404, PC 404.6

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Rioting Laws in California

According to California Penal Code 404 PC, the act of rioting involves two or more individuals who come together and intentionally engage in actions that disrupt public peace, employ force or violence, or threaten to use force or violence while possessing the immediate ability to carry out such threat.

In California, to act "willfully" means that the individual acted with intention or purpose. It's not enough to simply be present at the scene of a riot, one must have actively taken part in it or provided support to those who were participating in the riot.

The law reads:

404. (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, or road camp, or any city jail, industrial farm, or road camp, or any juvenile hall, juvenile camp, juvenile ranch, or juvenile forestry camp.”

Possible Legal Defenses

If you are facing a rioting charge in California, there are several potential defenses that may apply to your situation. To help you navigate this complex legal issue, we will discuss some of the best strategies for defending against a rioting charge and provide you with a comprehensive overview of your options.

Acting in self-defense against police using unreasonable force

During riots, law enforcement officers may experience nervousness, exhaustion, and sometimes anger, increasing the likelihood of instances of police brutality. Furthermore, individuals who act in self-defense against aggressive police behavior may be wrongly accused of participating in a riot under California Penal Code 404. To contest these biased or erroneous police accounts, it is crucial to have the assistance of a competent criminal defense attorney.

Present but not participating 

In California, an individual can only be found guilty of rioting if they have actively participated in the riot or provided support to those who were participating. Simply being present at the scene of a riot is not sufficient for a rioting conviction, despite the potential for stressed or overzealous law enforcement officers to act as if it is. Individuals should not be convicted of rioting without clear evidence of their active involvement.

Mistaken identification 

Police officers handling emergency situations are often susceptible to errors, including misidentifying individuals who were engaged in illegal activity. During a riot, those who happen to be of the same race or ethnicity as many of the participants may easily be falsely accused due to mistaken identity by police or eyewitnesses.


In California, participating in a riot is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by:

Imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year, or

A fine of up to $1,000.

In many instances, judges in rioting cases often grant summary probation, which typically involves minimal or no jail time, provided that the defendant stays away from the location of the riot and adheres to all laws in the future.

Looking For Help?

If you have inquiries regarding the California offense of participating in a riot or wish to have a confidential discussion about your case, feel free to reach out to The H Law Group.