SB 296: Broad new definition of "riot"
Would newly define “riot” under Wisconsin law such that peaceful protesters could face steep penalties. Currently, Wisconsin law broadly defines an “unlawful assembly” as a group of three or more people who cause a “disturbance of public order” and make it “reasonable to believe” the group will damage property or people; the definition specifically includes a group of three or more who assemble to block a street or building entrance. Under the bill, an “unlawful assembly” in which at least one person commits an “act of violence” that creates a “clear and present danger” of property damage or injury; or threatens to commit such an act and has the ability to do so; or commits an “act of violence” that “substantially obstructs” some governmental function, is a “riot.” As such, a large street protest where a single participant threatens to push somebody could be deemed a “riot,” with no actual violence or property damage being committed by anyone. Under the bill, anyone who attends a “riot” or refuses an order to disperse a “riot” commits a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory 30 days and up to 9 months in jail and a $10,000 fine. If the “riot” results in “substantial” property damage or injury, anyone who attends commits a Class I felony, publishable by up to 3 and a half years in prison. The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor for any person who “incites or urges” three or more people to engage in a “riot;” the bill does not define “incite” or “urge.” Finally, if a person “obstructs” “any public or private thoroughfare,” or any entrance to a public building while participating in a “riot,” it is an additional Class A misdemeanor. (See full text of bill here)
Introduced 8 Apr 2021.
Issue(s): riot, traffic interference