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First Amendment Rights at a Protest: How to Stay Out of Jail

Aug 21, 2017Blog, Legal Tips

Understanding Your First Amendment Rights During a Protest

Our constitution affords people many rights. Within the constitution is the first amendment, which states that people have the right to freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble. The first amendment protects people who wish to voice their complaint or support of an issue. People express their viewpoints most often in the form of protests, demonstrations, marches, and rallies. Keep in mind, however, that free speech does not protect anyone from breaking the law. Furthermore, there may be certain stipulations for protesting. For example, you may need a permit if traffic is disrupted, amplifiers are used for broadcasting, or you anticipate a large number of people that will attend.

Although we are guaranteed first amendment rights under the constitution to protest, large gatherings such as these often become contentious and difficulties arise. Here are tips to help you if you participate in any type of political protest.

Put safety first

No matter what the political protest is about, staying safe should be a top priority. Follow these guidelines to ensure your safety:

  • Stick together with the group. Don’t wander off alone or become separated from the group. There may be other counter-protesters and being alone puts you at risk.
  • Never engage in any violent or destructive activities during the course of the protest. There is no protection under the first amendment to destroy property or harm other individuals.
  • Do not break any laws. Aside from engaging in violent activities, you shouldn’t block pedestrians from walking down the sidewalk or interrupt traffic unless you have a permit. You can’t trespass on private property either. If you do so, the owner can ask you to leave. If you don’t leave, the owner may call the police to have you removed. Furthermore, you may not harass passersby, although you are allowed to offer them pamphlets and other material.

What to do in the event of counter-protesters

Remember that counter protesters have first amendment rights also. They may be just as passionate about their viewpoint as you are. During times of counter-protesting it’s best not to engage one-on-one with any of them. Police are supposed to keep the two groups separated but in the event that this doesn’t happen, keep focused on your group’s agenda and try to ignore the other group. Remember if you protest peacefully, it gives more credence to your viewpoint.

What should I do if I encounter the police?

As long as you are following the guidelines for protesting, there should not be any issues with the police. However, sometimes things get out of hand and innocent people get arrested. Here is how to handle all aspects of a potential arrest:

  • Prior to any arrest: Be sure you know the laws. Don’t block any pedestrians, traffic, or roads unless you have a permit to do so. Protest without violence, and stay away from counter protesters.
  • During an arrest: If for some reason, the police do arrest you, do not argue or resist in any way. You could ask what the charge is and explain that you have a right to be there (show the permit if applicable). But if you get arrested anyway, don’t resist. Resisting arrest is a crime.
  • After an arrest: The first thing you want to do is post bail so you can go home. After that, seek legal counsel to find out if your first amendment rights were violated.

Protesting is your right under the first amendment. Understand the particular laws in your town and around protesting so that you do not violate any laws. Stay safe and keep peaceful. If you find yourself in a predicament, contact 8-Ball Bail Bonds for help getting out right away.