Under Georgia law, any two or more persons who (1) commit an unlawful act of violence or (2) commit any other act in a violent and tumultuous manner are guilty of riot, which is a misdemeanor.

This bill would make the act of riot punishable as a felony punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment. Additionally, the bill would make these offenses only bondable before a superior court judge. 

The central issue of this bill is the (not otherwise unlawful) “violent and tumultuous” acts which would expose individuals to liability. There is a dearth of contemporary analysis of this language, as most of the meaningful appellate review of the statute occurred around the turn of the 20th century. The most enlightening case I found was Green v. State, 109 Ga. 536 (1900). In Green, defendants were charged with riot for assembling outside a jail with arms, “cursing and talking loudly,” while some may have used “threatening” language.  The case, like all cases analyzing this statute, do not identify any specific language used. The court found that this is sufficient for riot. 

Green, while not particularly rigorously analyzed, highlights that there will be a wide variety of non-criminal conduct, including likely 1A protected conduct, that would qualify as a riot. What’s particularly worrying about the statute is that anyone who remains at a riotous assembly is equally guilty of riot, despite how nonviolent their conduct may be.

The ACLU strongly opposes this bill. The bill is unconstitutionally vague and subjects protestors to 20 years in prison for First Amendment protected conduct.






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