Protests: What Is Legal (And What Is Not)

The right to protest is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, this right is not without limitation, and even peaceful protesters could face law enforcement intervention if certain regulations are not upheld during the demonstration. In light of the national attention on protests, the following article details certain applicable Florida and federal laws as pertaining to legal (and not so legal) free speech exercises. As such, if you are facing a recent criminal charge stemming from participation in a protest, a criminal defense attorney can help you combat those charges and arrive at an amenable resolution for all involved.

Florida’s Protest Laws

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to protest. Therefore, Florida law also upholds this right. However, Florida law enforcement is within its rights to put a stop to a protest if the event gets out of hand, which could consist of any of the following incidents:

  • Violation of local noise ordinances
  • Trespassing onto private property without consent
  • Threats against law enforcement
  • Assault or battery upon other protestors, the target of the protest, or law enforcement
  • Vandalism, including graffiti
  • Theft
  • Breaking and entering
  • Unlawful discharge of a firearm or brandishing a weapon

With the exception of trespass or a noise violation, many of these crimes are codified as 1stdegree misdemeanors or felonies, both of which could result in a significant jail sentence and monetary penalties. Moreover, a concerted effort amongst protesters to engage in unlawful activity could result in criminal charges against all protesters present in the area — even if they were not involved in the theft or vandalism — if the facts support a charge of criminal conspiracy.

Protected Protest Activities

Peaceful protesters may still face legal restrictions and restraints against their demonstration, however these restrictions must be content-neutral and set in place to advance an important and compelling government interest. In other words, a city or municipality is within its rights to limit the time, place or format of a demonstration, provided the restrictions are not based in any way on the subject matter or content of the protest.

Likewise, free speech demonstrations may be prohibited in quasi-private public property (e.g., inside a courtroom).  As well, law enforcement may impose certain other restraints on a demonstration, including:

  • Requiring a permit prior to initiating a protest or demonstration
  • Prohibiting the total obstruction of a sidewalk or public thoroughfare
  • Restricting protesters from wearing a mask (in certain circumstances)
  • Restricting amplified sound
  • Prohibiting inflammatory speech calculated to incite violence
  • Prohibiting obscenities

Contact Us Right Away for Assistance

If you are facing a recent arrest and criminal charge following your participation in a protest, demonstration, or free speech activity, our Bradenton criminal defense attorneys can help. Your right to express an opinion and openly voice your concerns is constitutionally protected, and the Fowler Law Group is here to help defend against criminal charges that may infringe on this right. For an appointment, call (941) 900-3100 today.

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