One of the greatest freedoms we enjoy under the Constitution is the right to peaceably assemble. Nonetheless, this is not a limitless right. For example, if you are part of an assembled group that plans to commit a crime or a crowd that poses a threat to public safety, you can be charged with unlawful assembly.
Participation in an unlawful assembly violates state law; therefore, the definition and penalties vary. In California, you can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Discover more about unlawful assembly and how criminal defense attorneys can help you fight these charges.
What Is Considered an Unlawful Assembly in California?
California Penal Code section 407 defines an unlawful assembly as two or more people meeting together for:
- Committing a crime: In this portion of the law, it is the purpose or intent behind the gathering that matters. As a result, a crime does not have to occur for the assembly to be considered unlawful.
- Participating in a lawful act, but in a boisterous, tumultuous, or violent way: Here, the gathering is only unlawful if violence takes place or is imminent.
Anyone involved in a gathering found to be unlawful risks arrest. A person could be held responsible for other participants’ actions by willingly participating in an assembly they knew was illegal.
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Why Are Some Assemblies Illegal?
The line between legal and illegal assemblies is often challenging to determine. As a result, law enforcement officials are charged with balancing the need to safeguard a group’s constitutional right to assemble with the welfare and safety of the general public.
Maintaining this balance can be particularly challenging when it comes to political demonstrations and rallies. Tensions frequently run high, and what begins as a peaceful, legal gathering intensifies into a violent confrontation.
Illegal assemblies can escalate into full-scale riots leading to looting and endangering innocent bystanders and nearby businesses.
What Is the Difference Between an Unlawful Assembly and a Riot?
A riot is a type of unlawful assembly; however, not every unlawful assembly rises to the level of a riot. Riots occur when a gathering of people lashes out violently against other individuals, property, or authority figures. For instance, rioters may target storefronts, cars, religious buildings, or government institutions.
Riots and unlawful assemblies involve a common objective: to break the law or generate mayhem. The main distinction between the two is that:
- Riots always involve violence or force.
- Unlawful assemblies are often violence free. However, they could be considered illegal because of their intent to commit crimes even if they don’t escalate to violence.
Unlawful assembly carries a lighter penalty and is considered a misdemeanor under California P.C. §408.
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What Are the Penalties for Unlawful Assembly in California?
Unlawful assembly is charged as a misdemeanor that can lead to court fees, fines, restitution for inflicted damage, community service, and jail time.
Additionally, an unlawful assembly conviction will be added to your criminal record and will come up on a criminal background check performed by a landlord or employer.
Unlawful assembly is a crime punishable by:
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Time in county jail for up to six months
- Both a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail
Several factors will dictate the severity of your punishment if you are charged and convicted of unlawful assembly. When you are sentenced, your judge will look at the facts of your case and any criminal background you may have.
Usually, unless there are aggravating circumstances, the judge won’t impose a maximum sentence. And rather than jail time, your judge could sentence you to probation.
The outcome of your sentencing will be contingent on the skill and caliber of your legal team. If you hire an experienced defense lawyer, he or she will be able to present arguments to have your charges dismissed or earn the lowest penalty possible.
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How Do You Defend Against an Unlawful Assembly Charge?
Like every person accused of a crime, you are innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution carries the burden of proof to show you were involved in an unlawful assembly. Yet, it’s crucial to put up a solid defense against unlawful assembly charges brought against you.
Legal arguments you could use as a defense against P.C. §408 include:
- Your actions were protected under the First Amendment
- The assembly was not threatening or performing violent acts
- You didn’t know the crowd you were part of was unlawful
- Before you were arrested, you were not able or allowed to leave the group
- You did not deliberately participate in the assembly
You can also win your case by putting forward a strong defense with a skilled legal team and have your charges dismissed before a trial date is set.
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An unlawful assembly and charges stemming from it are often caused by a peaceful situation that grew out of control. As a result, emotions can run high between law enforcement officers and protestors, and wrongful arrests can occur.
If you’re up against unlawful assembly charges, the highest priority on your mind is to walk away from this case as a free person. Fortunately, by hiring a lawyer, you increase the odds of this happening.
Contact our legal team, and we’ll thoroughly review your case at no charge to you. Reach out to us day or night and talk to a Simmrin Law Group attorney. We’ll start building your case today!