Last year, a wave of protests across the United States erupted after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Most recently, protests spread across the country after the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr.
Across the country, including Texas, police have arrested thousands of people at protests. Protesters have been charged with a variety of criminal offenses, including obstruction of traffic, assault, trespassing, looting, and others.
Criminal charges range from a misdemeanor to felony offenses. While Americans have a constitutional right to protest, some protesters may overstep the legal boundaries and get arrested at a protest.
Sometimes, however, people get arrested at a protest for no reason. If you or your loved one has been arrested at a protest, do not hesitate to contact a Williamson County criminal defense lawyer to protect your constitutional rights and hold the police accountable for unreasonable arrest or detention or unlawful searches and seizures.
Protesters Should Understand Their Rights to Avoid Arrests at a Protest
Unfortunately, many protesters do not understand their rights. While everyone knows that they have a right to assemble and express their views through protest, many do not know what they can and cannot do during a protest.
There is a lot of confusion about people’s rights during a protest and the situations when the police may arrest protesters. Let’s review some of the most fundamental rights of protesters:
You have a constitutionally protected right to a peaceful protest.
You can freely protest in public places, including streets, sidewalks, and parks, as long as you are not obstructing car or pedestrian traffic.
You can gather in front of a government building and other buildings as long as you are not blocking access to the building or interfering with the functions of the building.
Protesters may need the property owner’s permission when protesting on private property.
When protesting on private property, the owner of the property can set certain restrictions
While protesters have a right to take photographs of anything in plain view or anyone in public places, including the police, private property owners can set rules for taking photographs or videos.
Assault and Battery
When a protest turns violent, some protesters may assault other demonstrators, bystanders, or police officers. Depending on the severity of the victim’s injury caused by assault, a violent protester can be charged with battery, assault, or aggravated assault.
If you or your loved one has been charged with assault or battery while protesting, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Assault and battery charges may lead to jail time, fines, and other negative consequences.
When organizing protests, people must obtain permits if they are planning to obstruct traffic on public roadways or block pedestrian traffic on sidewalks. Without the required permits, protesters can be arrested for obstructing car or pedestrian traffic.
Violating an Emergency Order
It is not uncommon for local and state authorities to issue emergency orders in response to protests. When there is a reasonable concern that a protest may lead to a riot or it poses a threat to public safety, the local or state government may issue an order to disperse the protest.
If the protesters fail to disperse and go home once the order takes effect, the police may arrest demonstrators for violating the emergency order.
In addition, the authorities may impose a nighttime curfew in an attempt to force protesters to go home.
Many protesters are arrested for trespassing. While protesters have a constitutional right to protest on public property, they may be charged with trespassing if they:
Protest on private property without the owner’s permission; or
Block access to government and other buildings.
Looting is one of the most common crimes committed at protests. Unfortunately, many opportunists take advantage of peaceful protests to start looting. However, many people are wrongfully accused of the crime of looting when they have nothing to do with stealing goods at a protest.
If you are charged with looting during a protest, you could face a misdemeanor or a felony conviction depending on the value of the stolen goods and other circumstances.
Constructing, Possessing, and Using Homemade Explosives
Some protesters have the intention to turn a peaceful protest into a violent one by using homemade explosive devices, including Molotov cocktails.
Using homemade explosives at a protest can lead to tragic consequences. It could damage public and private property and cause bodily injury or death to protesters, bystanders, or law enforcement officers.
Individuals who make, possess, or use homemade or unregistered explosive devices at a protest may be arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a destructive device.
Vandalism and Criminal Mischief
Many protesters are arrested for vandalism and criminal mischief in Texas. You can face vandalism charges when you intentionally and knowingly destroy or damage someone else’s private or public property.
The Texas Criminal Code recognizes two similar criminal offenses:
Vandalism, which is a willful act of defacing, destroying, or altering someone else’s property.
Criminal mischief, which is any willful behavior that has the purpose to destroy or deface private or public property.
Commonly, protesters face vandalism and criminal mischief charges for:
Arson and setting things on fire
Throwing eggs at someone else’s property
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Williamson County Criminal Defense Lawyer
Being arrested at a protest can have long-lasting consequences. Having a conviction on your criminal record could negatively impact your reputation and your ability to find employment, not to mention that you may have to serve a sentence in jail and/or pay hefty fines.
However, just because you get arrested at a protest does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted. You still have a chance to raise an effective defense to get the charges dismissed or reduced.
Speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to identify all the potential defenses to your protest-related charges. Contact our attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard to get a free consultation or call 254-501-4040.