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Civil Rights

First Amendment rights – Protests, Police and your Rights

By August 19, 2020April 2nd, 2024No Comments

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States protects your right to protest or otherwise express your views. 

Local law enforcement cannot silence your protest, but they can place restrictions on how you exercise your free speech. 

Before organizing a protest or attending one, know your rights and be prepared to defend those rights with an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney

First Amendment rights for organizing a protest

Your right to protest covers you on public property, such as government buildings, streets, sidewalks and parks. However, you cannot block access to such areas as part of your protest or restrict their use. 

Private property owners can place restrictions on your ability to assemble or exercise your free speech. Be careful where you choose to assemble and do your research in advance of organizing a protest. The government cannot restrict your free speech if you assemble on your property or with approval from the property owner.

Additionally, counter-protesters have the same rights as you do to assemble and share their opinions. Law enforcement should treat protesters and counter-protesters equally.

When on public property, you can photograph or shoot video footage of anything or anyone present. Private property owners can restrict what you capture while on their property.

Generally speaking, you do not need a permit to assemble a protest. However, if you plan to march in a parade or otherwise block streets or sidewalks, you might need to acquire a permit to proceed with your planned protest. 

Attending a protest and exercising your First Amendment rights

Before attending a protest, do some research to learn more about where it is taking place. Just like the rules for assembling a protest, you will need to abide by the property owner’s rules if the protest is taking place on private property.

If the protest is on public property, know your rights before attending. Law enforcement can ask you and other protesters to move if you are blocking access to a public road or sidewalk. However, that does not mean your voice is silenced. You can still assemble, you just must abide by these laws that state how you can assemble.  

In rare circumstances, law enforcement might issue a dispersal order. Such an order is only permitted as a last resort for law enforcement. Additionally, law enforcement must give you a reasonable time to comply with such an order and make it clear the rules for dispersal. Failure to follow such an order could lead to you being arrested, so be sure to follow the steps in this blog if you’re detained by police during a protest. 

Taking photos or video during a protest

You have the right to photograph and take a video of anything within plain view during legal assemblies and protests. But private property owners may set forth special rules for how and when you may photograph or take a video of a protest on their property.

Without a warrant, law enforcement cannot confiscate your photos or video footage. Additionally, law enforcement cannot force you to delete photos or videos from a protest. 

In special circumstances where activities are interfering with normal operations on public property or on private property where the owner did not approve of such a protest, law enforcement can force you to stop protesting or move the protest elsewhere.

What to do if the police stop you during a protest

During a protest, law enforcement might stop you or question your activities. Follow these important steps to protect your rights and prepare for criminal proceedings.

  1. Stay calm and do not resist the officer. Law enforcement cannot detain you without reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime or were in the process of committing a crime.
  2. Write down everything you can remember from the encounter with law enforcement, including the officer’s name, badge or patrol number, and who they work for. 
  3. Collect witness contact information.
  4. Photograph your injuries if your encounter with law enforcement was not peaceful.
  5. Discuss the matter with an attorney and file a complaint if the officer’s action were not in line with the law.

Contact Jacqui Ford Law today

Never forget that you have the right to assemble and protest. But be sure that you follow the laws surrounding such assemblies and that you know what to do if law enforcement detains you in the course of your protest. If you’re facing criminal charges related to your First Amendment rights, contact Jacqui Ford Law. Our team of criminal defense attorneys will build your defense and ensure your rights are protected.