RALEIGH, N.C. - Earlier today, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed HB 805, legislation that would impose harsh penalties for protesters who are charged with “rioting.” The veto comes a day after a federal court blocked an anti-protester law in Florida. Like the Florida law, North Carolina's HB 805 would allow for broad discretion of law enforcement to charge people with serious offenses, and would significantly delay setting bail for people charged with rioting by requiring a judge rather than a magistrate to set pretrial release conditions.
The ACLU of North Carolina has continuously opposed HB 805 and commends this decision by the Governor.
Chantal Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, issued the following statement regarding the Governor’s veto:
“This proposal was clearly retaliatory legislation in response to the public demands for racial justice we witnessed last year. Had this become law, it would have dissuaded people from engaging in constitutionally protected acts of protest and empowered law enforcement to target those who organize and frequently attend protests and demonstrations.
“We applaud Governor Cooper for blocking this legislation from becoming law, and now we call on him and all decision-makers in North Carolina to proactively work towards racial justice in their legislative agendas.”
Background Information and ACLU of North Carolina Concerns About Harmful Provisions in HB 805
It can be easy for someone to be charged with misdemeanor rioting. The law only requires a group of three or more people who are deemed "disorderly." If enacted, anyone arrested in a disorderly group is not able to see a magistrate to set bond like everyone else. Instead, they must wait for a district court judge, which can take up to 48 hours depending on the time and location of the arrest.
Such treatment of people who are innocent prior to their day in court is reserved for murder, serious drug or gun offenses, threats of mass violence, and domestic violence. Even after seeing a judge, the person may have significant limitations on their liberty, including limits on where they may go or have bond denied entirely for an even longer period of time.
On Increased Penalties for Assault on Emergency Personnel:
It is not difficult to imagine people being charged with a higher felony as included in HB 805 for "assault" on emergency personnel during an emergency. The charges would apply not just during protests, but during any emergency. Assault is a low bar that is not hard to meet in a crowded or overwhelming situation. It could easily and unintentionally happen to anyone. As Kerwin Pittman, member of the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC), stated so well in public comments during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on August 10, 2021 (YouTube link here) - [portions paraphrased for brevity] "Why does this bill deter [people who may want to protest]?... I don't know how many of you have been in a protest. I just organized 100 or so days in Elizabeth City, North Carolina of protests... It is easy to brush up against law enforcement. It is easy to brush up against firefighters. But I may be charged with a felony - not only an I but an H now" - without even causing an injury.
On Inciting a Riot:
Inciting or urging others to riot is a very vague statute. Would this include something as small as texting someone to suggest they join a protest? Could it include saying to someone that you agree with why they're there to protest? Under this bill, someone could be convicted of a Class E Felony, an extremely high offense requiring active prison time for a first-time charge (see NC Sentencing Chart), if they "incite" a riot and then others in the crowd cause property damage. The "inciting" does not have to be a cause of the property damage; it only has to be a "contributing cause" of the riot itself.