Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Protester Alert: Know Your Rights

In response to planned demonstrations around the country including Wyoming, as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the ACLU of Wyoming is making sure all protesters know their rights. Here is some basic information about the rights of protesters, although it should not substitute for specific legal advice. In addition, the ACLU of Wyoming has also produced a Bust Card with more information about what to do if you’re stopped by police.

First, it is important to differentiate between protesting with protected free speech and using civil disobedience. With civil disobedience you are choosing to break the law, and perhaps be arrested to make a point. You need to be prepared for what happens when you are arrested.

Even though protesters are clearly protected by the Constitution, the definition of “peaceful protest” may differ from person to person. Here are some valuable tips on what to do if you are confronted by a police officer or another public official during a protest.

Your Rights as a Protester:

• What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you – especially if you “bad mouth” an officer.
• You are required to provide your name, address, or date of birth to a law enforcement officer upon request.
• You can be arrested for refusing to identity yourself to an officer.
• You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your car.
• You may photograph or videotape police officers performing their job in public, but do not interfere with police action.

Limitations on Speech:

• The government can limit speech by imposing “time, place, and manner” restrictions. This is most commonly done by requiring permits for meetings, rallies, and demonstrations.
• The First Amendment does not protect speech that incites violence, is obscene, or is threatening.
• It is a federal crime to threaten to harm the President, the Vice President, or a major candidate for either office.

Limitations on Action:

• If you endanger others through the manner in which you choose to protest, you can be arrested. A protest that blocks traffic is illegal without a permit.
• You do have the right to distribute literature, chant, and engage passersby in debate, but you do not have the right to block a building entrance or physically harass people.
• Protesting on private property is not protected by the law.
• Do not interfere with, touch or verbally antagonize the police.
• Avoid carrying any drugs or weapons. If you happen to be arrested you could face additional charges for their possession.

If You Are Arrested:

• Do not run or resist. It may result in additional charges.
• The whole process, from arrest to release on bail, should take about 24-36 hours.
• The police will ask you for basic biographical information and will take your fingerprints and photograph, unless you have been charged with a very minor crime.
• You will then be interviewed by a court agency so that bail can be assessed. You do not have to answer their questions, but providing accurate information will greatly speed up the process.
• You can hire an attorney to represent you at the arraignment and present arguments regarding bail.
• The judicial officer will set bail according to several factors (local connections, seriousness of the crime, how many other protestors have been arrested, etc.).

If you feel your rights have been violated, write down everything you can remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information from any witnesses.

Wyoming residents who believe their rights have been violated are encouraged to report these concerns to the Wyoming ACLU.