The Texas Riot crime forbids participation in a riot. Effectively, this gives police the right to arrest you if they believe you are a member of a riot. The important question, then, is what is a riot? Learn more detailed information about the Riot offense below.
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In the United States we have the right to assemble freely with anyone. The government is not supposed to tell American with whom they can associate. The Riot law attempts to get around this limitation by characterizing riots as something more than a simple assembly. Riot is classified in the Texas Penal Code under Title 9 “Offenses Against Public Order And Decency”, Chapter 42 “Disorderly Conduct and Related Offenses.”
The offense is described in Section 42.02 of the Texas Penal Code.
(b) A person commits an offense if he knowingly participates in a riot.
Simple enough. The definition of “Riot” is discussed below.
Section 42.02(a) of the Texas Penal Code defines riot as follows:
For the purpose of this section, “riot” means the assemblage of seven or more persons resulting in conduct which:
(1) creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons;
(2) substantially obstructs 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.
You can be charged with Riot if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 42.02(b) as described in the section above have been met.
A conviction for Riot is punished as a Class B misdemeanor,1 with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $2,000 and jail time of up to 180 days. Learn about the differences between grades of felonies and misdemeanors
The Texas Riot law provides a defense if you can show that the assembly or protest was at first lawful, and when one of those assembled tried to turn it into a riot as described above, you left the assembly.2 Of course, this is a defense you have to assert in court, and you can only get to court if you are arrested in the first place. This gives police officers a lot of latitude to arrest you if you are anywhere near a riot. Whether you left fast enough or went far enough away would be questions for a jury to decide. And the state prosecuting attorneys would argue you didn’t go far enough away quickly enough.
If a jury believes that prosecuting attorneys proved that a higher grade offense (a Class A misdemeanor or any felony) occurred during the riot in the furtherance of the purpose of the riot or could have been anticipated, then the jury can sentence you according to the grade of the more serious offense.3
1 Texas Penal Code Section 42.02(e)
2 Texas Penal Code Section 42.02(c)
3 Texas Penal Code Section 42.02(f)