What Are My Rights at a Protest or Political Demonstration?
During these times of increasing social and political division and unrest, both locally and globally, political demonstrations and civil rights protests are becoming more and more prevalent in our country. Knowledge of one’s civil rights and the boundaries of permissible conduct during a protest, may be extremely useful in avoiding criminal prosecution, civil disruption, damage to property and, even, physical harm.
Our First Amendment rights include many forms of expression, such as participating in demonstrations, like marches and protests, handing out flyers or leaflets, chanting, carrying signs, and even, public dancing. These activities, however, are constrained by limits, to the extent that they must not cause, or threaten to cause, imminent harm to persons or property. Such breaches of the law may include trespassing, violation of curfews, disorderly conduct, or even rioting, which is considered a felony in Pennsylvania. While protesters are permitted to assemble in public areas, such as parks, streets, or near government facilities, they must do so without interfering with the operations or primary purpose of such institutions or facilities.
During a political protest, police officers are permitted to briefly detain you, if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed a crime. In Pennsylvania, you are not required to show your identification card, when demanded to do so. However, if you fail to do so, the police may detain you for a longer time in an attempt to identify you. Additionally, you are not required to answer any questions, including your place of birth or immigration status, for instance. You are further not required to allow police to search you, but they are permitted to “frisk” or “pat you down,” if they suspect that you are carrying a weapon.
If a law enforcement officers reasonably anticipate that the assembly of protesters will result in substantial harm or serious inconvenience or annoyance, they may issue a lawful order for the group to leave an area or to disperse. Failure to comply could result in an arrest for disobedience of a lawful order.
In many political or civil demonstrations, participants frequently attempt to photograph or make video recordings of the events, for numerous purposes, including to monitor police conduct. As long as you are assembled lawfully in a public space, you are permitted to photograph or record anything in plain view, including police officers who are performing their official duties in a public place.
If you were arrested in a protest or plan to attend a demonstration and are seeking legal assistance, you should speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact the criminal defense lawyers at Tanner Law Offices. Our team of skilled professionals is prepared to defend you through this challenging time and ensure your rights are fully protected. Please contact our office at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.