What Should I Do If I Was Charged While Protesting?

Over the last several months, we saw protests sweep across the nation. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution generally protects the right to peaceably assemble. However, there are some limitations to what you may do while protesting, and, in some cases, the police may arrest protestors for violations. 

If you were arrested while protesting in North Carolina, you have certain rights. Here, we discuss what to do if you were charged while protesting and how a North Carolina criminal defense attorney can help.

Please note that this is not meant to be taken as legal advice, and it does not substitute for the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please use this article for informational purposes only, and reach out to a lawyer if you need legal assistance.

  1. Stay Calm

First and foremost, if you are apprehended by a police officer while protesting, remain calm. Do not try to resist or argue with the officer. Calmly state that the First Amendment protects your right to peacefully protest and ask the officer if you are free to leave.  

  1. Ask Why You Are Being Arrested 

If the officer says you are free to leave, you may do so and do not have to keep speaking with the officer. If the officer places you under arrest, you have the right to ask what the charges are. You should then immediately say you wish to remain silent. 

  1. Ask for a Lawyer

Do not say anything or sign any papers an officer presents you. Instead, request a lawyer. You will have the right to make a phone call, and the police officer cannot listen in on your conversation with your lawyer. 

  1. Do Not Consent to a Search 

If an officer asks for your consent to search your person or your belongings, you have the right to say no. Never consent to a search. Police officers do not have a right to confiscate or view your photographs or videos (unless they have a warrant). However, a police officer may have the right to pat you down if, for example, they suspect you have a weapon after you have been arrested. 

What Can I Be Charged With?

Protesting is legal in North Carolina, but certain acts that occasionally accompany protesting are not. Protestors in North Carolina can be arrested for committing crimes while protesting, including: 

  • Disorderly Conduct: protestors who participate in “conduct creating the threat of imminent violence” or who use abusive language intended to provoke violent retaliation can be charged with disorderly conduct.
  • Curfew Violations: cities and municipalities occasionally implement curfews. If protestors remain out past curfew, they can be arrested. 
  • Permit Violations: depending on the locality, governments may require permits for anyone wanting to hold a parade, rally, march, or protest. If you do not get the appropriate permit, you might be arrested while protesting.
  • Trespassing: entering or remaining on someone else’s property after being told to leave can result in a trespassing charge. You can also be charged for trespassing for protesting on public property when that area is closed to the public.
  • Failure to Disperse: if an officer reasonably believes that a riot or disorderly conduct is taking place, he can order protestors to disperse. If you fail to follow this order, you might face charges for failure to disperse. 

If you were charged with one of these crimes, or any other, while protesting in North Carolina, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help. Reach out for a free consultation to discuss your situation.