Lawmakers Propose Riot Act Bill Following Disturbances on Jersey Shore

Senate Chamber of New Jersey Capitol

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In response to recent disturbances on the Jersey Shore, New Jersey lawmakers have proposed a bill aimed at expanding and clarifying laws against rioting and related violent crimes. The proposed legislation, introduced by Senators Robert Singer and Joe Pennacchio, comes in the wake of a state of emergency declared in Wildwood and a stabbing incident in Ocean City over the Memorial Day weekend.

The bill, known as S-399, revises the definition of a riot to involve three or more persons engaged in violent conduct that results in injury, damage, or a clear risk thereof. The use of a firearm or deadly weapon during such events upgrades the offense to a third-degree crime, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison or fines up to $15,000.

The legislation also introduces new categories of 'aggravated riot' and 'inciting a riot'. An aggravated riot is defined by the participation of 25 or more individuals or causing serious injury or significant property damage. These offenses can lead to second-degree crime charges, potentially resulting in up to ten years of imprisonment and fines up to $150,000.

"Riots and vandalism will drive visitors away and devastate the summer season. As a state, we cannot afford that,” said Senator Singer to the Shore News Network. “Make no mistake, these are not peaceful gatherings. Organizers solicit young people to come out and cause trouble. They create situations that are volatile and dangerous. Under our legislation, we can stop these riots before they get out of hand.

The bill also provides for an affirmative defense for injuries or damages incurred by riot participants, and a procedure to appeal proposed reductions in law enforcement funding. This comprehensive approach underscores New Jersey’s commitment to addressing the complexities of public disturbances while safeguarding constitutional rights to peaceful assembly.

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