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  3. Unlawful Assembly vs. Riot – What’s the Difference?

Unlawful Assembly vs. Riot – What’s the Difference?

Jul 28, 2020 | Unlawful Assembly

With all the protests across the country of late, we hear of scores of people arrested for rioting. We believe many of the people arrested were simply exercising their constitutional rights under the First Amendment. That section of the Bill of Rights protests our right, among other things, to

  • Freedom of speech.
  • Peaceable assembly.
  • Petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And according to many onlookers, the exercise of those protected rights, and nothing more, has in many cases led to the arrest of innocent citizens. Just as disturbing, many of those arrested are facing charges far beyond those that might legitimately apply to the situation.

Unlawful Assembly

The charge of unlawful assembly can apply in a variety of situations. It is defined in A.R.S. 13-2902 as two or more people assembling with intent to riot or remaining present at such an assembly after refusing to obey an official order to leave. It is a class 1 misdemeanor.


Under A.R.S. 13-2903, the law deals with the actual use of force or violence, involving two or more people who are acting together, or the threat of force or violence coupled with the immediate power to carry it out, where the violence or threat disturbs the peace. Riot is a class 5 felony.

How Police “Mistakes” Affect the Charges

Peaceful demonstrations are nothing more than people exercising their constitutional rights, executive branch statements to the contrary notwithstanding. On the other hand, certain of those in our government are so afraid of these demonstrations, that it appears inevitable that there will be arrests. Granted, some who participate do engage in violent acts; on the other hand, that does not permit a police free-for-all leading to the arrest of anyone in sight.

The May 31 Demonstration in Phoenix

On May 31, a BLM demonstration took place in Phoenix. Among those arrested were 4 migrant workers. Three of them were arrested while they in their car leaving the area. As to the fourth, while apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time, did nothing that could be documented to support any charges.

Nevertheless, all 4 were not only arrested, they were charged with riot, which, as we stated above, is a felony. In any event, since that time, the prosecutor, apparently being unable to substantiate any charges against the men under Arizona law, declined to prosecute any of them.

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028