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Appeals court upholds Charlottesville rally convictions but criticizes anti-riot law

Appeals court upholds Charlottesville rally convictions but criticizes anti-riot law
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A federal appeals court upheld the convictions of two white supremacists involved in the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., but also determined that parts of a federal anti-riot law were too vague.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Benjamin Drake Daley and Michael Paul Miselis, members of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement, would see their convictions under the Anti-Riot Act stand because the court found the two had admitted to committing violent acts during the now-infamous rally.

The two defendants, who traveled from California along with other members of their group, reportedly admitted that none of their violent actions were in self-defense prior to making a guilty plea in a lower court, which the appeals court said rose to the level of “commit[ting] any act of violence in furtherance of a riot."

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The court did, however, toss out portions of the 1968 Anti-Riot Act which it ruled "sweeps up a substantial amount of speech" protected by the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, which established tests to decide whether speech rises to the level of incitement.

“Because we also find that the discrete areas of overbreadth are severable — meaning that the remainder of the statute is constitutionally valid, capable of operating independently, and consistent with Congress’s basic objectives — the appropriate remedy is to invalidate the statute only to the extent that it reaches too far, while leaving the remainder intact,” the court's opinion read.

The two men pleaded guilty last year to charges under the Anti-Riot Act as well as other crimes and received short prison sentences; Daley was sentenced at the time to 37 months, and Miselis to 27 months according to CBS affiliate WDBJ 7.

One counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed during the 2017 riots after a neo-Nazi attendee of the rally, James Fields, rammed a crowd of pedestrians with a car.