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Riot, in criminal law, offense against the public peace, interpreted as any tumultuous disturbance by several persons who have unlawfully assembled to assist one another, by the use of force if necessary, against anyone opposing them in the execution of some enterprise of a private nature; and who execute such enterprise in a violent manner, to the terror of the people. In common law, it was necessary to direct an unlawful assembly to disperse before action could be taken against it. This was known as "reading the riot act." At present in England and in most of the United States, an assemblage of three or more persons is required for the disturbance to be considered a riot; in a few states, a disturbance resulting from the assembly of two people may be so considered. Moreover, in England and in much of the U.S., a disturbance is held to be a riot whether the parties assemble for the purpose of committing a lawful act or an unlawful one; in some states the acts committed must be in themselves illegal. Each member of a riotous assembly is guilty of riot and may be punished accordingly; the mere joining of the group, while tumult is in progress, constitutes an offense.
Rioting, in most of the U.S., is punishable as a misdemeanor in common law; it is generally punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to three months. The penalties are more severe when the rioters are armed or when the object of the riot is to prevent enforcement of the law. In recent years, however, more severe legislation has been enacted in some states and by the federal government. Interstate travel in order to incite a riot is now a federal offense. In many states, statutes provide that persons injured as a result of a riot may recover damages from the municipality in which the riot occurred.

Text From:
"Riot," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.