Can a Peaceful Protest Land You in Jail?

A Peaceful Protest Could Result in Jail Time

The right to protest and share your beliefs is protected under the first amendment of the constitution. However, that doesn’t mean that all protests are legal or that you may not find yourself in jail for being part of a demonstration. Even peaceful protests can end with arrests by the police if the law is not followed to the letter. Here is what you need to know to avoid jail time, fines and other charges from participating in a peaceful protest.

Understanding the 1st Amendment Right to Assemble

The first amendment does protect freedom of speech and the right to assemble. However, this is not a blanket license for protesters to gather whenever or wherever they want, even peacefully. The amendment is a critical part of protecting citizens’ right to voice their opinions for a working democracy, but they cannot disobey other laws in the process. Others have a right to speak against you and your group; they also have a right to occupy public places where protests take place without undue disruption.

The first amendment makes it clear that protesting peacefully is legal. The exact verbiage states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What this means is protesters can gather peacefully. The have the right to speak their opinions, hold signs and assemble in groups. In most circumstances, a peaceful protest receives protection from the police for these rights. However, when the police believe a protester is breaking other laws, they may decide to detain, use force or arrest the protester. In some cases, this is legal; in other cases, the protester may have had their rights violated.

In most cases, assemblies must be on public property or on private property with the permission of the owner. This can be in public parks, on the sides of roads and other public property, if it does not disrupt other activities. In some cases, permits may be needed for marches or parades that could delay or block traffic. Private property protests have more leniency with permission from the owner, if the protest is orderly and adheres to noise ordinances.

What Can You be Arrested for During a Peaceful Protest?

It is always best to understand the goals and mindset of the organization or group you will be joining for any protest. While you may plan to be peaceful, if others instigate problems that bring the attention of the police, arrests can be made and you may end up in the mix. Some of the common charges filed on protesters during assemblies that lead to arrests include:

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Obstruction of vehicle or pedestrian traffic
  • Refusing to comply with a lawful order to disperse
  • Trespassing

Many protests that have started peaceful have ended in police arrests. In some cases, counter-protesters get involved, causing conflict. There can be a few bad apples in an otherwise peaceful demonstration that can bring negative attention to the police. And in some cases, the police may make arrests or cause injuries to protesters that infringe on their rights under the first amendment.

What Should You Do if You Are Arrested?

If you are arrested during a peaceful protest, it is important not to make the situation worse by fighting or arguing with the police. Even if you believe you are being unfairly charged, comply with the police. Remember your rights. You have the right to ask why you are being arrested, but not the right to resist. You do not need to answer any questions; once your Miranda Rights are read to you, invoke your right to silence. If you are asked any questions, only say that you are remaining silent until your lawyer is present. As soon as possible, write down all the details about the arrest you can remember.

Most charges filed against protesters are misdemeanors, but some can be felonies. Regardless, any charge that is unfounded can become part of your permanent record if you are found guilty which may affect employment opportunities. Additionally, you can have fines and jail time associated with the charge.

If you have been arrested or have charges filed against you from a peaceful protest, contact us at Matthew Lopez Law, LPPC. We can help fight the charges and discuss if the police had a rightful cause to detain you during your protest. If you believe your rights were infringed upon under the first amendment, our legal experts can advise you on your options. Call today to schedule your consultation at our office in Tempe, AZ.

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