United States v. Miselis, No. 19-4550 (4th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Defendants conditionally pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States with the substantive offense being a violation of the Anti-Riot Act. Defendants' charges arose from their violent participation in three white supremacist rallies during 2017.
The Fourth Circuit held that, while the category of speech that lies at the core of the Anti-Riot Act's prohibition, called "incitement," has never enjoyed First Amendment protection, the statute sweeps up a substantial amount of speech that remains protected advocacy under the modern incitement test of Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) (per curiam), insofar as it encompasses speech tending to "encourage" or "promote" a riot under 18 U.S.C. 2101(a)(2), as well as speech "urging" others to riot or "involving" mere advocacy of violence under section 2102(b).
However, the court held that, in all other respects, the statute comports with the First Amendment. Because the discrete instances of overbreadth are severable from the remainder of the statute, the court held that the appropriate remedy is to invalidate the statute only to the extent that it reaches too far, while leaving the remainder intact. Finally, the court held that defendants' convictions stand because the factual basis of defendants' guilty pleas conclusively establish that their own substantive offense conduct—which involves no First Amendment activity—falls under the Anti-Riot Act's surviving applications.