MSNBC reports: Sergio Ballesteros, 30, has been involved in Occupy LA since the movement had its California launch in October. But this week, his activism took an abrupt turn when he was arrested on a felony charge — lynching.
Under the California penal code, lynching is “taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer,” where “riot” is defined as two or more people threatening violence or disturbing the peace. The original purpose of the legal code section 405a was to protect defendants in police custody from vigilante mobs — especially black defendants from racist groups.
Whether its use in this case will be upheld by California’s courts is uncertain. But the felony charge — which carries a potential four-year prison sentence — is the kind of accusation that can change the landscape for would-be demonstrators.
“Felonies really heighten the stakes for the protesters,” said Baher Azmy, legal director at Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. “I think in situations where there are mass demonstrations and a confrontation between protesters and police, one always has to be on the lookout for exaggerated interpretations of legal rules that attempt to punish or squelch the protesters.”