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Criminal Charges and Arrests During a Protest

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Recent police brutality cases have sparked a wave of anti-brutality protests across the United States. While members of the public who do engage in peaceful protest are exercising their Constitutional rights, many law enforcement agencies are arresting and charging protesters with serious crimes. If you are arrested during a protest, there are certain factors you need to know to protect your rights and avoid severe penalties.

When Can the Police Arrest You in a Protest?

While the First Amendment of the Constitution establishes the public’s right to protest, the language in the document limits the types of protests that the police cannot interfere with. Protesters can peaceably assemble, but if the event turns violent or dangerous, police can begin making arrests.

The Supreme Court case Cantwell v. Connecticut establishes that the government has the right to stop protests if they present a clear or present danger, or a threat to public safety, order, and peace. If the police allege you engaged in a violent act or violated the law, you could risk arrest.

There are multiple charges you can face at a protest, including the following.

  • Violating orders to disperse, when the police issue a warning to leave the area
  • Violating city- or state-issued curfew and emergency orders
  • Obstruction of traffic
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Obstruction of an officer’s ability to carry out his or her duties
  • Trespassing on private property
  • Vandalism

What to Do If You’re Arrested at a Protest

When police decide to start arresting people, a protest can easily devolve into panic. If a law enforcement officer arrests you, take the following steps to stay safe.

  • Stay calm and comply with the officer. Even if you are facing an unjust arrest, resisting, running away, or fighting back can result in serious charges. Instead, ask the officer why he or she is arresting you and if he or she cannot give a reason, ask him or her if you can walk away. The officer must have a reason to arrest you.
  • Exercise your rights. Remember that you do not have to consent to a search of your belongings, and the officer cannot force you to delete any content on your phone. Above all, remain silent and request to speak to your lawyer as soon as you can.
  • Contact your lawyer immediately. Before you attend a protest, contact an attorney you can rely on in case you face arrest.

Many protest-related arrests do not have a valid legal basis. The police cannot arrest you for simply being at a protest that turns violent, or for yelling or cursing at them. The police cannot use controversial tactics, such as kettling, to prevent you from complying with their orders. If you are facing charges, speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Other Criminal Charges During Protests in King County

While the police ultimately drop many protest-related cases, many King County protesters are facing harsh penalties for serious charges. Some of these charges include the following.

  • Unlawful gun possession
  • Robbery and burglary
  • Assault and battery
  • Arson
  • Unlawful use of a weapon
  • Unlawful possession of a destructive device

Hiring a criminal defense lawyer is the single most important action you can take to protect yourself after an arrest. Your attorney will understand the laws surrounding protests and the charges you’re facing, and can apply strategies, leverage resources, and utilize his or her skills to protect your rights. If you have not done so already, contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after your arrest to discuss your case.

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