Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman has ruled that the riot law in the CNMI is unconstitutional because it is vague on its face.
Wiseman determined that 6 CMC Section 3102 is so vague and standardless that it leaves the public uncertain as to what conduct it prohibits, thereby violating the due process clause.
The judge issued the ruling in granting Ramon S. Kaipat’s motion to dismiss the riot charge filed against him, arguing that the violation he is charged with is void for facial vagueness.
Wiseman said the charge is unconstitutional as it violates Kaipat’s right to due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the Commonwealth Constitution.
Attorney Jennifer Dockter represented Kaipat in the case. Attorney Michael Ernest assisted Dockter in filing the motion. Assistant attorney general Margo Brown represented the government.
The Office of the Attorney General charged the 35-year-old Kaipat with riot, alleging that on June 1, 2013, he assembled with seven others by force, violence, loud noise, shouting or threats that placed others in fear or danger. The OAG filed the same charges against seven other persons.
A man was seriously injured during the riot that reportedly began with a verbal tussle between two men that escalated into beating and rock throwing.
Public Law 3-71, codified at 6 CMC Section 3102, prohibits rioting, defining it as: “assembling with two or more persons and together with the latter, by force, violence, loud noise, shouting or threats, placing others in fear or danger.”
Dockter asserted that Section 3102 broadly prohibits conduct that includes the constitutionally protected rights of free speech and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Dockter said Section 3102 includes shouting and threats as part of the conduct it prohibits, thereby prohibiting speech.
Dockter said it also prohibits assembling with others when by force, violence, loud noise, shouting, or threats, such conduct causes fear or endangers others.
In his ruling, Wiseman said it is difficult to imagine how any Commonwealth citizen who happened to be assembled in the same place with other persons would know how much noise constitutes being “loud.”
“Loud noise could be anything from speaking in a loud tone, to singing out loud, slamming one’s door, to having a loud cell phone ring tone,” Wiseman said.
Further, the judge noted, it is difficult to imagine how a citizen would know how loud a noise could be before it causes fear or endangers others.
“A citizen loudly talking on a cell phone at a barbecue while with a group of friends might awaken a baby sleeping nearby in a stroller and frighten [him or her],” Wiseman said.
Section 3102, the judge said, fails to provide the kind of notice that would enable an ordinary person to understand what conduct is prohibited.
Further, Wiseman said, such a law might authorize and even encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
“One might be guilty of violating Section 3102 by playing loud music at 3am where one playing loud music at 3pm would not face the same enforcement,” he said.
Wiseman said a review of the survey of riot statutes in other American jurisdictions makes it apparent that Section 3102 is completely dissimilar to the crime of riot in a vast majority of American jurisdictions and thus falls short of passing constitutional muster.