Fri 21 Apr, 2023 Criminal Defense

Can I Be Arrested for Protesting?

Many people participate in protests to express their beliefs about an issue. Regardless of where your viewpoint falls on the political or social spectrum, you may face resistance from the police. In some situations, you may even be arrested. If you have been arrested for protesting in NYC, contact an NYC protest arrest lawyer to make sure that you strategically handle your case. 

Is it Legal to Protest?

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides the right to freedom of speech, which broadly allows people to voice their opinions in public spaces.

However, courts have established that the government may limit where and how protests are made. For instance, unless a protest organizer applies for and receives a permit, a protest cannot completely block a sidewalk or street such that it interferes with the orderly flow of traffic. However, if the protest organizer receives a permit, then the protesters may be able to march in the streets and use loud amplification systems that would normally be unlawful under normal conditions.

Charges You Might Face

Although the First Amendment to the United States Constitution generally allows people to protest in public spaces, the right to protest is limited to speech. In other words, you can’t commit a crime, e.g., trespass on private property, burglarize stores, assault people, or interfere with lawful police activity. If you commit a crime while protesting, you can still be arrested.

Some common charges that protestors may face include:

  • Disorderly Conduct (P.L. § 240.20)
  • Walking on Road Where a Sidewalk is Available (VTL § 1156(a))
  • Unlawful Assembly (P.L. § 240.10)
  • Inciting to Riot (P.L. § 240.08)
  • Obstructing Governmental Administration (P.L. § 195.05)
  • Resisting Arrest (P.L. § 205.30)
  • Trespass (P.L. § 140.05)
  • Assault in the Third Degree (P.L. § 120.00)

Protests can be hectic, and sometimes the police arrest people who did nothing unlawful. In those situations, a person should be able to fight their case and get it dismissed. Additionally, a person subject to false arrest may have actionable claims against the police and may be able to successfully sue the police for violating his or her constitutional rights. If you think you may have been falsely arrested, an NYC protest arrest lawyer can evaluate your case to determine if you have viable claims.

What To Expect if You Are Arrested

If you are arrested while protesting, the process you go through will be dependent on the charges that you face. For most offenses that you are likely to be arrested for at a protest, you will receive a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket that orders you to return to court at a later date to face the charges against you. If you receive a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket, you will be in police custody for no more than several hours before being released.

If you have been charged with a more serious offense, like assault on a police officer, then you will likely be brought through central booking. If you are brought through central booking, you will be processed at the police precinct for hours and then will be shuttled to the criminal courthouse. Once in the criminal courthouse, you will wait for hours for the district attorney’s office to determine what charges to bring against you. You may be held in jail overnight. Once they write up the formal charges against you in a formal complaint, you will be assigned a public defender, or if you or your family retains a private lawyer, then the lawyer of your choice will appear on your behalf.

After you review the criminal complaint with your lawyer, you will be brought in front of the judge. At this first court appearance—called the arraignment—you will formally be charged with the offenses brought against you. 

The judge will then decide whether to set bail. Although many offenses in New York are not eligible for bail to be set—meaning that the judge must release you while you fight your case—certain offenses are bail eligible, and the judge can set bail if he chooses. If you have been brought through central booking for a protest arrest, there is a strong possibility you will face an offense for which the judge can set bail. Regardless, an NYC protest arrest lawyer will be able to argue to the court that bail should not be set for your case.

Typical Outcomes

Most protest cases that involve a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket are relatively minor, and your lawyer can likely convince the court or district attorney’s office to reduce the charges to a non-criminal offense, and sometimes your lawyer may be able to get you an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD), which is when your case is adjourned for six months and, so long as you don’t get rearrested, your case will automatically be dismissed and sealed. An ACD does not require any sort of plea or admission of guilt.

ACDs are typically great outcomes for all criminal cases. Although some defendants insist that they won’t accept an ACD, practically speaking, it takes over six months for a case to go to trial. So, if you reject an ACD, you will ultimately have an open pending criminal case longer than if you simply accepted the ACD when it was first offered. Of course, every case is unique, so it’s always important to choose an NYC protest lawyer who will explain your options so that you can make the right decision for you.

If you are charged with a more serious offense, then an ACD may be off the table. In that case, your attorney can evaluate your case to determine the best strategy to handle your case. The police sometimes wrongfully arrest people for serious offenses at protests, so an experienced lawyer may still be able to get your charges dropped even if you are facing serious charges.

Need Help? Speak to Our NYC Criminal Defense Attorney Now

If you were arrested after protesting in NYC, give Cody Warner a call for a free consultation. Cody is an NYC protest arrest lawyer who can assess your case and determine the best path forward. Contact our office today.