Crimes Related to Protests

Civil Disturbances can frequently occur as a result of Political Protests, some of the possible charges that a person allegedly involved in a Protest could have to defend themselves against are set forth below.


The right to protest is one of the most important rights in the American democratic system. The right of citizens to peacefully protest is protected by our First Amendment right to free speech. However, there are limits and the right to protest does not permit violence or the incitement to violence. Protests that turn violent are called “riots” and notwithstanding your First Amendment right there are laws against rioting and inciting others to riot that you should know before taking to the streets.

A riot is a type of civil disorder that results in a public disturbance against authority, property, or people. Riots typically involve violence or the destruction of property, though the term is also used in connection with “unlawful assembly.”

Although citizens have their First Amendment right as protected by the Constitution, cities can regulate the right to demonstrate by requiring permits or limiting demonstrations to a designated area. Demonstrations lacking permits where required or outside of a predesignated area may be deemed a riot or an unlawful assembly. Unlawful Assemblies typical involve peaceful demonstrations that are not in compliance with other requirements.

CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE SECTION 405 regulates Participating in a Riot: requires 2 or more people, acting together and without legal authority, disturbing the public peace by threatening or using force or violence, AND they have the ability to carry out the threats. It is not necessary that a previous agreement exist between the rioters.

Other similar or related offenses include:

Inciting a Riot – California Penal Code Section 404.6 – when an individual or group encourages others to commit a breach of the peace without necessarily acting themselves. This could include statements, signs or other actions intended to lead others to riot.

Unlawful Assembly – California Penal Code Section 408

Failure to Disperse – California Penal Code Sections 409 and 416

Disturbing the Peace – California Penal Code Section 415.

A persons mere presence at the scene does not alone make that person a Rioter.


During riots, natural disasters and other states of emergencies, there is always a risk that members of the public will take advantage of the chaos around them and will engage in theft and crime offenses. Many store owners suffer tremendous losses when looters steal all of their goods. Under California Penal Code Section 463 PC, the act of looting is a crime that can carry serious consequences for those convicted.

To prove that a defendant is guilty of looting, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant committed commercial burglary, grand theft, petty theft or grand theft of a firearm
  2. During an emergency situation.

The emergency can be natural, like an earthquake or other natural disaster, or can be manmade like a riot or unlawful assembly. Other related criminal charges could include:

  1. Burglary – California Penal Code Section 459 PC
  2. Grand Theft – California Penal Code Section 487 PC
  3. Petty Theft – California Penal Code Section 484 PC
  4. Grand Theft of a Firearm – California Penal Code Section 487(d)(2) PC
  5. Participating in a Riot – California Penal Code Section 405 PC
  6. Unlawful Assembly – California Penal Code Section 408 PC


Penal Code 594 PC is the California statute that defines vandalism as maliciously damaging, destroying or defacing another person’s property. This would include defacing the real or personal property of another, causing damage or destruction. Vandalism is a misdemeanor if the amount of the damage is less than $400.00. Vandalism can also be filed as a felony if the amount is $400.00 or greater. Grafitti is and can be considered Vandalism.


Mandatory curfews are laws that effectively prohibit or limit the right to be out in public at certain times, or in some cases, require businesses to close their doors during certain hours.

State and local governments are granted broad powers to impose curfews and other restrictions – more so than the federal government can – during public health crises and other emergencies in effort to maintain public health and safety.

There are three main types of mandatory curfew laws: emergency curfew laws, business curfew laws, and juvenile curfew laws.

Emergency Curfew Laws

Emergency curfews are usually temporary orders that are put in place — by federal, state, or local government — in response to a particular crisis, like a natural disaster, public health crisis, or ongoing civil disturbance. In Los Angeles violations of Los Angeles Administrative Orders would be charged to adult individuals found to be in violation of the curfew laws. Recently emergency curfews have been enacted as a result of the Pandemic and Political Protests.

  • March 2020: Dozens of states and territories declared states of emergency, granting authority to impose emergency curfews in effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 during the global pandemic.
  • May 2020: Authorities in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills imposed an afternoon-to-dawn curfew and deployed the National Guard to help quell city-wide civil disturbances and looting. Authorities in the County of Los Angeles and across the nation imposed various curfews on a daily basis to deal with the civil unrest going on nationwide.

If you have any questions about this information or any charges that you might have pending against you please contact us right away. If there is a way to potentially mitigate your exposure we would like to evaluate that possibility as soon as possible.