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Political protests can bring criminal charges

Political protests are erupting all over the nation in response to the new administration's policies on immigration and other issues. It is easy to get swept up in the fervor and join in with a protest. What you want to avoid is getting arrested during the protest.

Understand your rights

Both the state and federal constitutions give people the right to peaceful protest on some public lands. Government agencies and law enforcement can place certain restrictions on protesters' activities, however, to maintain public order and keep the peace.

The problems begin where these two conflicting interests collide. If you plan to participate in any protests, or have children who may, the following tips may be useful.

  • If you're engaged by police - Arguing is pointless. Aggression can get you hurt - or worse. Be mindful of what you say or do, as it can later be used against you. Remain calm and concentrate on avoiding arrest.
  • Ask if you are "detained" - Do this politely. If the answer is "no," you do not have to answer police questioning.
  • Ask if you are "free to go" - If yes, leave the vicinity and find another protest spot.
  • If the police detain you - Give them your name and ask if you are under arrest. Ask for a lawyer and say nothing more.
  • If police want to do a search - Police can pat protesters down looking for concealed weapons, but anything else requires consent. Don't give it. Make them produce a warrant. If they persist regardless, verbally state that this is a nonconsensual search.
  • Police violations - If you experience or witness police brutality or misconduct, taking action on the scene can put your life in jeopardy. Make note of numbers on badges and patrol vehicles and the involved officers' names.

Fighting for an acquittal on charges

Often, for those who get arrested at a political march or protest, this is their first criminal charge. They may never have realized that their actions could land them behind bars. Many protest arrests are little more than round-ups to herd bodies to the police station in time for the 10:00 news.

But a conviction for any criminal offense can have a negative effect on the life you're leading, or planning to lead. It's always best to fight back vociferously against any charges stemming from protest activities that are the constitutionally protected rights o f all Americans.

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