In Colorado, people engaged in lawful protests may suddenly find themselves under arrest for rioting. Inciting or engaging in a riot is a criminal offense, with possible misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the types of actions alleged and whether a weapon was involved. Felony charges of engaging in a riot can result in 2 to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What are rioting offenses in Colorado?
- 2. What is a riot?
- 3. What is inciting a riot?
- 4. Arming rioters
- 5. What are the penalties for engaging in a riot?
- 6. Disobeying of Police Orders
- 7. What are defenses to rioting charges?
- 8. Related Offenses
In Colorado, it is a criminal rioting offense for an individual to:
- Incite a riot;
- Engage in a riot;
- Arm rioters; or
- Disobey a police officer's orders to disperse from a riot.
A “riot” is defined as a public disturbance involving a group of 3 or more people which creates a danger of injury, damage to property, or substantially obstructs the performance of any governmental function.1
What the police call a riot may be a group of individuals participating in a peaceful protest. Police may preemptively call a peaceful assemblage a “riot” where there is no real threat of danger to persons or property. Alternatively, a couple of individuals may take advantage of a protest to destroy property, causing the police to label all the peaceful protesters as rioters.
Inciting a riot is urging a group of others to participate in a violent or dangerous public disturbance. A person incites a riot if he or she:
- Incites or urges a group of 5 or more people to engage in a riot; or
- Gives commands, instructions, or signals to a group of 5 or more people in furtherance of a riot.2
Even if the riot has not yet occurred and is only an impending riot, an individual can be charged with attempting to incite a riot, conspiracy with others to incite a riot or soliciting another person to incite a riot.
Under C.R.S. 18-9-102, inciting a riot is a class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties for misdemeanor inciting a riot include 6 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. However, if anyone is injured or if the property is damaged as a result of inciting a riot, it may be charged as a class 5 felony. The penalties for felony inciting a riot include 1 to 3 years in prison, fines of up to $100,000, and a mandatory parole period of 2 years.3
Even if someone does not actively participate in a riot or does not incite others to riot, they can be charged with the crime of arming rioters if they supply weapons to rioters. A person commits arming rioters if he or she supplies a deadly weapon or destructive device for use in a riot, or teaches another to prepare or use a deadly weapon with the intent that it be used in a riot.
Engaging in a riot is a class 2 misdemeanor, even if the defendant caused no property damage and no one was injured. Under CRS 18-9-104, the penalties for misdemeanor engaging in a riot include 3 to 12 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
If the there was a threat of a deadly weapon used in the course of rioting, the defendant may be charged with a class 4 felony. Felony engaging in a riot includes the defendant using a deadly weapon, destructive device, or any object used in a way to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a deadly weapon. This also includes verbally representing that he or she is armed with a deadly weapon.4
The penalties for felony engaging in a riot include 2 to 6 years in prison, a fine of up to $500,000, and mandatory parole for 3 years.
When a riot is taking place or impending, individuals are required to obey reasonable public safety orders to disperse. If the defendant knowingly disobeys a reasonable public safety order to move, disperse, or refrain from specified activities in the immediate vicinity of the riot, they may be charged with disobedience of public safety orders.
Under C.R.S. 18-9-105, “a public safety order is an order designed to prevent or control disorder or promote the safety of persons or property issued by an authorized member of the police, fire, military, or other forces concerned with the riot.”5
News reporters and persons observing or recording the events on behalf of the press or news media may not have to follow the public order to disperse unless they are physically obstructing efforts by the police to cope with the riot.
Disobeying public safety orders under riot conditions is a class 3 misdemeanor. The penalties for disobedience of police orders include up to 6 months in jail and up to $750 in fines.
Many innocent people are arrested for “rioting” during peaceful protests, or unfairly arrested when they had nothing to do with any destructive or violent behavior. Riots and protests can be confusing for police to monitor and the police often arrest innocent people when they claim a riot is taking place. At the time of the arrest is not the time to fight unjust riot charges. You may have to wait until your day in court to get a chance to clear your name.
Individuals charged with rioting offenses have a number of possible legal defenses. Common defenses to rioting charges may include:
- You did not participate in the riot
- Mistaken identification
- You were attempting to disperse when you were arrested
- You did not incite or encourage any riotous or violent behavior
- You were an innocent bystander
- Your statements were protected free speech
- You were a member of the media observing or recording the event
It is a petty offense in Colorado to loiter within 100 feet of a school when anyone under 18 is present or you have been asked to leave by school administrators. The penalties for loitering near a school include up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Protesting in a way that prevents or disrupts any lawful meeting, procession or gathering is the class 3 misdemeanor of disrupting lawful assembly. Obstructing a highway, street, or sidewalk may also lead to criminal obstruction charges. The penalties for disrupting an assembly or obstructing a passageway include up to 6 months in jail and up to $750 in fines.
Call us for help...
If you have been arrested for rioting or accused of inciting a riot, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group.
- C.R.S. 18-9-101(2)
- C.R.S. 18-9-101(3)
- C.R.S. 18-9-102
- C.R.S. 18-9-104
- C.R.S. 18-9-105