With Derek Chauvin’s trial underway, there is anticipation of public protests. If you are considering attending a protest, you need to know your own legal rights and permissions and where your rights are limited. In light of the escalating and violent protests that took place in early 2020, it would be wise to attain knowledge of how to stay out of legal trouble while demonstrating your constitutional rights.
Protestors are allowed to fully speak their mind. A peaceful protestor can voice their opinion, whatever it may be. Views that are viewed as “controversial” or “unpopular” are also protected by the First Amendment. The protestor, however, may not engage in any activities or issue certain verbal threats such as fighting words, or inciteful speech that is unprotected. If a speaker causes a crowd to become unruly through pejorative statements, they cannot be silenced. However, they may be subject to prosecution if they insight the crowd with specific threats, or speech that would direct the crowd to commit illegal actions.
Gathering in a public area that is not immediately interfering with traffic or bringing danger to others is fully allowed. Areas that are lawful to gather on are: public sidewalks, public parks and other public areas that are not interfering with traffic. Be mindful of protesting in areas that are restricted or blocked off by government authority, or on private property without permission.
If the assembly that an individual attends is not going to interfere with traffic or have the possibility of bringing harm to others, there is no need for a permit. Law enforcement may ask that the assembly acquire a permit to protest. If the gathering will interfere with traffic or cause disruption, it is likely that officers will make the protestors disperse.
Protestors may hold signs while participating in a lawful public assembly. There are certain restrictions regarding the diameter of the pole that holds the sign. Restrictions pertaining to the physical composition of the sign are specific to individual city code. A protestor should use their best judgment when deciding what to write on their signs.
Officers also have rights and are obligated to carry out enforcement of justice and proper legal proceeding. Police officers may issue orders of dispersion if there are illegal activities occurring during the protest. It is wise to simply heed the instructions of law enforcement and avoid causing a tense confrontation. Even if you are not the one partaking in illegal activity, you can still be arrested for not complying with the officer. Constitutional arguments can always be made after the incident, in court. If you believe that your constitutional rights have been violated, make sure to record the information.
If an officer has reason to stop you and ask you for your identification (ID), it is wise to simply comply with the officer. Minnesota law is ambiguous as to when a police officer is legally able to ask for an ID. It is possible that you will be detained, and you may ask the officer for their reason for the detention. Complying with the officer if they ask for your ID is an easy way to stay out of any sort of legal trouble.
You may not spit in an officer’s face or otherwise issue bodily harm to them for no good reason. If you physically harm a police officer, you may be found guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Minnesota law deems the transfer of bodily fluids onto an officer, such as spitting, or other unsavory means of transferring bodily discharge, as assault in the fourth degree. The penalty for fourth-degree assault carries a penalty of a maximum sentence of three years in prison and, or a fine of up to $6,000. You also may not bring harm to any emergency responders or personnel.
The consequences for harming an EMT or firefighter, for example, is a felony conviction and a prison sentence along with potential fines. Protestors also may not bring damage to public or private property, while peacefully assembling. Destruction of property is considered a felony, or a misdemeanor in the least. Conviction of intentional destruction of someone else’s property will result in a prison sentence.
According to state law, an individual is not allowed to enter a premise without the express consent of the owner. If an individual enters a store, for instance, without consent, they could be arrested and charged with burglary in the fourth degree. In essence, anyone could be convicted of fourth-degree burglary if they are in store without consent, even if they do not steal anything.
Furthermore, a person may be guilty of unlawful trespass if they enter into a premise when they have not been given consent to be on that property. If someone were to walk through a hole in a glass window when a store is being looted, and that individual is seen entering into the store along with other perpetrators, you may be suspected of illegal trespass. Not only would that individual be suspected of trespass, but could also be suspected of burglary. Even if the individual entered the store to simply document the events, that person could still be arrested on suspicion of a crime. Not only would that individual be suspected of trespass, but also likely of burglary.
Not everyone is going to have knowledge of every possible statute that pertains to peaceful protesting. Therefore, it is always wise to abide by common sense if a situation seems like it could escalate or become tense. Comply with officers if they tell the assembly to disperse and avoid disrupting traffic or passing pedestrians. Identify yourself if an officer asks you to and make sure not to make specific threats or issue fighting words to another individual. Finally, enjoy exercising your First Amendment rights, while using reasonable discretion. A knowledgeable attorney from BK Law Group could answer any further questions you may have regarding your right to protest. Call today to learn more.