The freedom of expression is a uniquely American civil right, one which has become a hallmark of the US. Since the spring, demonstrations have become commonplace in many major US cities to protest a number of wrongs committed against citizens.
In recent months, many protests intended to be peaceful have not stayed that way, with many turning into violent riots. As a result, residents, cities, and police departments are on edge during upcoming public events.
You may be considering whether you should join a protest, or stay far from it. That’s your choice, since you may not know what you’ll be walking into when you get there. Understand that if you decide to join a protest, you could face the possibility of being arrested.
Why Are Protestors Arrested?
Most protestors are arrested for minor infractions such as failure to disperse or resisting a public officer. That was the case in Charlotte when over 100 people were arrested after protests. Disorderly conduct, a catch-all term for various types of behavior, is another frequent charge used for groups of people who become agitated.
Protests are frequently attracted individuals who have every intention of turning the event into a violent melee. Overwhelmed police may decide to arrest everyone they can and let the courts sort everything out. Innocent marchers who were not even involved with rioters are arrested as a matter of course and must fight for themselves in the court system.
Trespassing And Looting
Entering someone’s property without their consent or permission at any time is considered trespassing. You are not an invitee and have no reason to be on the property, you’re considered a trespasser. North Carolina General Statutes § 14 288.6 directly addresses both of these charges and includes:
“Entering without legal justification when the usual security of property is not effective due to the occurrence or aftermath of riot, insurrection, invasion, storm, fire, explosion, flood, collapse, or other disaster or calamity is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor of trespass during an emergency.”
Property owners generally have a duty of care to keep their premises safe for all who enter. But if you are injured on someone else’s property while trespassing, you may not be able to collect damages under premises liability law. The property owner’s responsibility is only to avoid willfully harming someone who is trespassing. Injuries you sustain while trespassing means you are on your own for medical bills and other expenses.
As we’ve seen in many cities, looting and other physical damage have destroyed businesses around the country. The same statute addresses looting:
“Any person who commits the crime of trespass during an emergency and, without legal justification, obtains or exerts control over, damages, ransacks, or destroys the property of another is guilty of the felony of looting and shall be punished as a Class H felon.”
Defense for Rioting Charges
Even if you are innocent of the charges made against you, or your arrest is unlawful, you can still be charged separately with resisting arrest.
There are circumstances where you may need to trespass during a riot or other emergency, including protecting the life of another individual or property. (Having the owner’s consent means you are not trespassing.) Recovering personal property on someone’s premises is not considered trespassing, either, such as property moved elsewhere by a hurricane. But you will be required to prove that your trespass was not intended to be criminal and that there was an imminent emergency.
Looting, on the other hand, will require a stronger burden of proof by the prosecutor. Defenses include lack of intent to commit looting, or if you were the subject of mistaken identity. You may also be able to use the defenses that the police failed to follow proper due process, or that they committed an unlawful search and seizure. Your criminal defense attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of your arrest and the circumstances surrounding it before your court date to determine exactly what occurred to assemble your defense.
Arrested After A Protest And Need Help? Call Dewey P. Brinkley
Exercising your right to free speech shouldn’t come with an arrest. If you are arrested for rioting, disorderly conduct, or other criminal charges during a demonstration, get legal counsel immediately and defend yourself against the charges.
Dewey P. Brinkley is a former Wake County prosecutor who will prepare a strong defense and make sure you receive a fair trial under the law. He has considerable experience defending those arrested for disorderly conduct and other charges and works for the best possible outcome. Contact our Raleigh law office today at (919) 832-0307 for a free consultation.