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can you be charged for a federal crime for protesting

Could You Be Charged with a Federal Crime for Protesting?

Since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis Police custody, protests have erupted across the country and around the globe. While most of these protests remained peaceful, some grew violent, tainted with looting and rioting crimes.

As a result, law enforcement stepped up police presence during demonstrations. In some instances, mass arrests ensued despite it being a peaceful protest. Some of the protesters detained will face criminal charges. However, many have been released en masse by judges broadly stating that law enforcement had no right to arrest them.

There’s a great deal of confusion about protesters’ legal rights and when police may arrest protesters. Peaceful protesting is a constitutionally protected right for U.S. citizens under the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Most protesters will not be charged with a federal crime for protesting. However, violent protesters found to have committed offenses by looting and rioting may face grave consequences should they be convicted.

What Types of Crimes Might Be Committed During Protests?

Reports of violence during protests have risen, involving criminal mischief, assault, hit and runs, and more. Often, these crimes arise from looting and rioting that occurred during the protests. Below, we consider various crimes that have been committed during demonstrations and the related penalties individuals could face.

Looting During a Protest

Looting is perhaps the most frequent crime committed during protests. Small mom-and-pop businesses and large corporations alike have suffered from robberies and vandalism during protests that grew out of hand.

The laws take a hard stance against anyone who commits looting. Anyone accused could face misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the value of the goods stolen. Penalties can range from steep fines and jail time to excessive fines and lengthy prison sentences.

Using Homemade Explosive Devices

Individuals can make explosive devices using common consumer goods. During the recent wave of protests stemming from George Floyd’s death, there have been several reports of people creating homemade explosive devices—particularly Molotov cocktails. These homemade explosives can wreak major havoc, with some protesters using them to burn down buildings and set police cars on fire.

Keep in mind that no matter how much public attention such cases might receive, any person arrested is deemed innocent until proven guilty. In other words, they must be tried in front of a judge or jury and cannot be sentenced unless they’re proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Committing Assault

Protests and rallies that grow violent may involve people who assault other protesters and police officers alike. Reports also include law enforcement using excessive force and becoming violent against demonstrators. Some police officers have been charged with assault or fired from the police department in the wake of their aggressive dealings with demonstrating protestors and innocent bystanders.

Depending on the severity of victims’ injuries, assault charges can hold severe penalties to anyone accused. This offense must be taken seriously to mitigate the risk of a harsh sentence with lifelong ramifications.

When Do Federal Authorities Intervene in Protests in Texas?

Specific crimes committed during protests and rallies allow the federal authorities to intervene in Texas and across the country. The two most common grounds for being charged with a federal crime for protesting are when state lines are crossed to break the law and when federal property is damaged.

In Texas, being charged with committing a federal crime can have dire consequences that could include a life sentence in federal prison. In June, Governor Greg Abbott, with all four State Attorneys in Texas, announced that anyone who comes from outside the State of Texas to commit crimes would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and face federal charges.

The press release explains:

“Individuals who come to Texas from out of state to engage in looting, violence, or other destructive acts in violation of federal law will be subject to federal prosecution. Anyone who is arrested and charged with such offenses will be transferred to federal custody.”

All Americans have the guaranteed right under the First Amendment of the Constitution to protest. However, when demonstrations become violent, the best thing to do is remove yourself from the situation. If you exercise your right to protest, it’s vital to remain aware of your surroundings and steer clear from any potentially violent or dangerous circumstances.

Protect Your Rights through an Experienced Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you face federal criminal charges after exercising your right to protest, it’s imperative that you secure trusted legal counsel as soon as possible. The Saputo Law Firm represents clients in Dallas and across Texas who face pending or threatened high-stakes litigation against the federal government. Our criminal defense attorneys are steadfast in their dedication to fight unjust and corrupt government prosecutions. With a history of successful case results, our firm has earned a reputation for tenacity, courage, and legal ingenuity.

To speak with an accomplished criminal defense attorney about a federal offense, schedule a consultation by calling 888-239-9305 or complete our contact form.