Grand Forks Herald
BISMARCK – A bill introduced in the North Dakota House in response to recent Dakota Access Pipeline protests would increase the criminal penalties for engaging in a riot.
House Bill 1426 would elevate offenses such as instigating a riot of 100 or more people or providing firearms or weapons for a riot from a Class C felony to a Class B felony.
That would double the maximum penalties for such offenses to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers, who testified in support of the bill, said the riot charge is intended for people who engage in “tumultuous and violent conduct.”
“It does not apply to peaceful protests or boycotting or anything like that,” Byers told the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing Monday, Jan. 30.
Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, who introduced the bill at the request of law enforcement, said some involved with recent pipeline protests were arrested but then returned to commit violent offenses after being released on bond.
“It definitely takes the bad actors off the street and out of the realm of the protest rather than just bail out and run right back out there and start over again,” Porter said.
Engaging in a riot would become a Class A misdemeanor under the proposal, which has a maximum penalty of one year in prison and/or a $3,000 fine. Currently the offense is a Class B misdemeanor with 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, asked what happens to people who intend to protest peacefully but the event turns into a riot.
“Is everybody then now part of that riot? You might have a group of 150 people and there might be 25 people who are really aggressively violent and the rest of them aren’t,” Vetter said.
Byers said prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individuals engaged in a riot.
However, Byers added that individuals could be guilty of engaging in a riot if law enforcement gives an order to disperse and they don’t leave the area, a Class A misdemeanor under the bill.
“That’s where you could be guilty if you remain there even if you aren’t necessarily engaging in a riot,” Byers said.
No one testified in opposition to the bill. The committee did not take action on the proposal.
Also Monday, the House voted down a bill that would have required people convicted of criminal trespass to pay a minimum $1,000 fee on top of their court-imposed fine. The fee would have supported the sheriff’s office in the county in which the arrest took place.
Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the bill had good intentions, but he said there are other bills in response to protests “that are much better suited to address the issue.”
House Bill 1332 failed on a 20-74 vote.