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Is It Illegal to Protest?

Posted on March 23, 2022 in Criminal Defense,News

For centuries, protests have been a way for the public to make changes on a political, social or economic level. Protesting is an important form of freedom of speech, as well as a way for the public to petition the government. It is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, this does not mean that the police won’t look for reasons to arrest protesters.

Your Right to Protest Is Protected by the Constitution

The First Amendment states that Congress can make no law abridging the people’s right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, to peaceably assemble or to petition the government for redress of grievances. This amendment includes protests and public assemblies. Protests and activism are not illegal activities. You cannot be arrested for the act of gathering or protesting alone. You may get in trouble, however, if you break a law or the protest becomes violent.

How to Peacefully Protest

While protesting is one of your fundamental rights, there are certain things that the police can arrest you for at a protest. These include blocking access to government buildings, inciting disruptive or dangerous behaviors, and destroying property. If you follow these rules in organizing or participating in a protest, you can reduce your risk of getting arrested:

  • Choose what the courts call “public forums” to assemble: streets, sidewalks and public parks. The right to protest is most protected in these three places.
  • Do not block traffic or access to sidewalks or buildings unless you have a permit. If you plan on marching in the streets, you will need a permit to do so.
  • Keep the protest under control and peaceful. Keep the amount of disorder and raucousness to a minimum to avoid angering the police or the public.
  • If something goes wrong and the police declare that the protest has become an unlawful assembly, leave as soon as there is an order to disperse. Disobeying this order can result in your arrest.

You cannot get arrested simply for being present at a protest or demonstration, even if others at the protest have violated the law or become violent. You also shouldn’t get arrested simply for shouting or swearing at police officers. If you engage in any type of action that can be considered violent, however, no matter how small, you could be arrested. You can also get arrested if you violate any anti-protest laws passed in the state where the demonstration is being held.

Anti-Protest Bills in Arizona

In 2017, major protests regarding the inauguration of President Trump, Kaepernick taking a knee at the NFL national anthem, women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights sparked more than 20 bills created around the country to restrict the right to protest. While most of these bills died and were never approved, some did pass into laws that are still in effect today. The states with these anti-protest laws are North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In 2020, Black Lives Matter protests resulted in six other states cracking down on protests with new laws: Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Montana and Alabama.

In Arizona, SB 1142 died after passing the Senate in 2017. This anti-protest bill would have classified rioting as organized crime, making participating in a protest that turns into a riot a criminal racketeering charge. It would also have allowed the police to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that becomes violent. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard stated that he would not consider the bill, effectively killing it in the Arizona Legislature.

What to Do if You Get Arrested at a Protest

If you get arrested for planning or attending any type of protest in Arizona, contact a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer right away for assistance. Your lawyer can make phone calls to get you out of detainment and determine if charges will be filed against you. If so, your lawyer can create a defense strategy that decreases the odds of a conviction as much as possible. At AZ Defenders, we provide high-quality criminal defense representation to those involved in protests or riots. Contact us today to request a free case consultation at our local law office.