Protests come in various sizes. Sometimes only a small handful of people gather holding signs, and at other times hundreds congregate and march down streets demanding certain changes in society. At times these protests involve certain individuals exhibiting disorderly conduct or breaking other laws. Depending on the type of demonstration involved, it is important to understand when you could be arrested by law enforcement and what happens if that occurs.

This involves understanding your rights, how and when to assert them, and knowing what to lawfully expects when you are stopped by police and taken into custody.

Police detainment at a protest

Police have the right to detain you if they are reasonably suspicious that you have committed a crime. You are not required to consent to a search, including a search of your mobile devices. However, if officers suspect you are carrying a weapon, they may conduct a pat down (or frisk) of your outer clothing. If the police go beyond a pat down, simply assert you have not consented to be searched. Do not fight the police with physical resistance. You will be better off in any future criminal proceedings for having remained calm.

Ask the officer conducting your detainment and/or search if you are free to go. If the officer says no, ask him or her if you are under arrest. The answer says no, state that you are leaving and walk away from the scene.

Why can I be arrested during a peaceful protest?

Although you may plan to be peaceful at a protest, others may start problems that draw the police to take action and make arrests. You could potentially get mixed up in all of it and get arrested yourself. Common charges filed by police against protesters that result in arrests include:

  • Trespassing
  • Obstructing pedestrian or vehicle movement
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Resisting a lawful order to disperse
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Vandalism
  • Destruction of property

In certain cases, police may make arrests or take actions that cause injuries to protesters that violate their First Amendment rights. So, it is important to understand your rights before you participate in a protest in order to prevent unnecessary attention from the police.

Getting arrested at a protest

Often, when you are arrested, it is obvious – a police officer states you are under arrest, and places the handcuffs or zip-ties on you. However, in certain chaotic situations an officer may simply place you in one location for an extended period of time.

Police are only required to read your Miranda rights if they are questioning you with the intention of using your answers at a trial. This is important, because you do not have to answer any questions the police ask. You do not have to “go down to the station” to answer any questions, either. If, however, you are arrested for any reason, law enforcement is required to read the Miranda Rights to you.

Once you have been arrested, police are legally permitted to conduct a search of your clothing, your purse/wallet, and your immediate surroundings. They may also take possession of your phone if they believe it carries evidence of a crime you have committed. They cannot, however, search your home or your vehicle if you were arrested elsewhere unless they obtain a search warrant.

In order to make an arrest, police must have probable cause. Without probable cause that you have committed a crime, a court may throw out any evidence discovered in a search of your person during your arrest.

If you are arrested

Avoid arguing and fighting with the police if you are arrested. Even if you believe your arrest is unfair, it is in your best interest to comply. You have the right to ask why the officers arresting you. You are not required to answer any questions posed to you by the officer. You may assert your right to silence after the officer read your Miranda Rights. You can simply state that you are choosing to remain silent until your criminal defense attorney is present. As soon as you are able, record every detail you can remember about your arrest.

The majority of charges filed against protesters are misdemeanors. In a lesser number of cases, because of certain actions taken by protesters, felonies may be charged. It is important to remember that if you are found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, it may become part of your permanent record and prevents you from accessing future employment opportunities. Depending on the alleged crime in conviction, the consequences can include significant fines and jail time.

At Carey Law Office, we understand what constitutes unlawful and lawful behavior during a protest. We can formulate an effective defense if you have been charged with any criminal misconduct associated with your participation in a protest. We have successful experience getting charges dismissed in negotiating fair plea agreements when needed. To arrange a free consultation in Bowie or Crofton, call our law office today at 301.464.2500 or complete our contact form.