It is legal to participate in protest demonstrations, but the police can arrest you for protesting in places and at times when demonstrations are not allowed, as well as for engaging in illegal actions such as theft, vandalism, or assault during a protest.
One of the rights granted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the right to peaceful assembly. This includes the right to attend protest demonstrations in public places. You do not need a permit to protest individually or in a small group, as long as you are on public sidewalks or streets (not on someone’s private property). You need permission for organized protests. If the protest takes place on private property, you need permission from the property owner. If the protest will be on a public street and will obstruct traffic, you will need to get a permit from the city. This way, officers can redirect traffic. Sometimes protests lead to heated exchanges between protesters and law enforcement or between one group of protesters and another, and arrests can ensue. The Austin criminal defense lawyers at Granger and Mueller can help you if police unfairly arrest you at a protest or demonstration.
Restrictions on the Time, Place, and Manner of Protests
While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, state laws and Supreme Court decisions have outlined which restrictions the government can place on the time, place, and manner of protests. These are some situations where protesting is against the law:
- Protesting within 1,000 feet of a cemetery or house of worship where a funeral is taking place
- Protesting at critical infrastructure facilities, including oil and gas pipelines
- Blocking walkways, roads, and waterways without permission
- Disrupting a lawful gathering with a protest
You should leave an organized protest by its official end time. If it is an impromptu protest, you should leave when the police tell you to leave.
Violence and Property Destruction are Always Illegal
Many of the actions for which people get arrested at protests would also be illegal in any other circumstances. Arrests often occur when protest demonstrations escalate into riots. If you get into a fistfight at a protest, you can get charged with assault. If you break the window of a store, you can get charged with vandalism, and if, after you break the window, you steal things, you can get charged with burglary. There is more room for debate about charges of disorderly conduct. Chanting into a megaphone would be considered disorderly conduct in most circumstances, but it is acceptable at an organized protest. If you get criminal charges arising from a protest, you should hire a criminal defense attorney.
An Austin TX Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help Protesters Avoid Unfair Prosecution
A criminal defense lawyer can help you exercise your rights if you are arrested at a protest and charged with a crime arising from your protest activities. Contact Granger and Mueller in Austin, Texas, or call (512)474-9999.