Lynching - California Penal Code PC 405

Posted by Raoul Severo | Dec 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

When you think of the word “lynching”, what comes first in your mind? Is it the terrifying imageries of individuals hanged by the neck with an angry mob rooting for their demise? Or is it a group of violent rioters using force and violence to remove someone from the custody of the cops? Depending on the sources, both can be correct. However, under California Penal Code PC 405, there is currently only one acceptable definition.

Historically speaking, the California constitution has defined “lynching” as when one or more individuals take part in a riot in order to retrieve another individual from the custody of the authorities. This changed after Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2015 that effectively removed the word lynching from the vocabulary of the law. This decision was rooted in the fact that lynching was more heavily linked to the racist activity in the South where African Americans were hanged by an angry mob. Given its harsh connotation, Gov. Brown opted to ultimately omit the word but retained the statute.

With that said, the following conditions must be present for a person to be prosecuted under PC 405:

  • The defendant willfully engaged in a riot;
  • While participating in a riot, the defendant took, or attempted to take, another person from the legal custody of a police officer; and
  • The defendant knew or reasonably should have known that he/she was intervening with the police officer who was performing or trying to perform his/her legal responsibilities.

Take note that an act cannot be punished under PC 405 if the defendant did not partake in a riot. In California law, a riot can be accomplished by two or more persons doing the following:

  • Disturbing the public peace;
  • Using force and violence; and
  • Threatening to use force or violence with immediate power to execute the threat.


There are a few examples of scenarios that can lead to a PC 405 charge, such as the following:

  • Two men decided to attend a protest against the COVID-19 lockdowns in their state. However, things got out of hand when some people started breaking into stores and looting. Law enforcement was deployed and one of the guys got arrested for vandalizing. In an attempt to save his friend, the other guy tugged on his friend's shirt and pulled him away from the authorities.
  • A 16-year-old boy was taken into police custody after authorities received reports that he was allegedly selling drugs. The boy's entire neighborhood adored him very much and so they all decided to storm the local police department with weapons and threatened the authorities that if they do not release the child, they will burn their establishment down. 
  • You were driving back home from work when you saw a group of people dressed in white robes and armed with guns gathered in a public park. There, you saw your best friend. You approached him to ask what they were doing, and he said that they were going to stage a riot to try and rescue their friend from prison. At first, you did not want to get involved, but after a few minutes of convincing, you decided to join anyway.

Related Offenses

Since California Penal Code PC 405 involves rioting, a person facing a charge under this statute could also be prosecuted for doing the following violations:

Punishments for Lynching

Any person who violates California Penal Code PC 405 is guilty of a felony, which is the most severe and serious type of criminal offense, as opposed to a misdemeanor or an infraction. The penalties for lynching are as follows:

  • Either two, three, or four years in county jail; and/or
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000.

Keep in mind that the judge may grant probation instead of the aforementioned penalties, but that highly depends on the circumstances of your case. Furthermore, additional penalties may be given if you violate more than one law.

Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney Now

There is simply too much at risk if you get charged for allegedly violating PC 405. Not only will you pay thousands of dollars, but you may also face jail time. Therefore, it is extremely crucial for you to get a criminal defense lawyer. We are dedicated to making sure that you are properly represented at court and that you get the results you deserve.

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