The right to protest is among the most fundamental rights we have as U.S. citizens. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives citizens the right to express their point of view—whether or not their point of view matches that of others. But unfortunately, many protesters still find themselves in need of a New Jersey criminal defense attorney.
While the First Amendment protects your right to protest, this right is not without some limitations. In fact, the police and other government authorities can restrict protests in several ways. Additionally, when a protest violates the law or leads to violence or other criminal activity (whether it was started by the protestors or not), protestors must be careful to avoid getting themselves into trouble. In various circumstances, protestors can face charges for criminal offenses such as:
- Criminal Mischief (N.J.S.A. Section 2C:17-3)
- Criminal Trespass (N.J.S.A. Section 2C:18-3)
- Disorderly Conduct (N.J.S.A. Section 2C:33-2)
- Failure to Disperse (N.J.S.A. Section 2C:33-1b)
- Obstructing Highways or Other Public Passages (N.J.S.A. Section 2C:33-7)
Your Rights Following an Arrest at a Protest in New Jersey
If you were arrested at a protest in New Jersey, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of your legal rights. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:
Even if the Police Violated Your Rights, You Must Still Comply with the Law
Even if the police violated your right to protest or peacefully assemble, this does not provide you with justification for breaking the law. In other words, if you violated one of New Jersey’s laws prohibiting disorderly conduct, failure to disperse or any of the other offenses listed above, the fact that the police violated your First Amendment rights beforehand generally does not mean you are innocent.
The First Amendment can provide a defense to criminal charges in some cases. Making this argument typically involves stating that the statute under which you are being charged unconstitutionally “edits” your right to free speech. This can be a challenging argument to make, as laws prohibiting trespass, obstructing traffic and other similar types of conduct generally do not have constitutional consequences. But, if you are being charged under a law that specifically involves your right to free speech, then challenging the law under the First Amendment could possibly be a practical defense strategy.
Other Constitutional Violations Can Provide Defenses in Criminal Court
Regardless of whether the police violated your First Amendment rights, you could have various defenses available. In addition to statutory defenses (i.e., you did not actually commit the alleged crime), this includes defenses under other constitutional amendments. For example, if the police arrested you or searched you without probable cause, this could mean that the government’s evidence against you is inadmissible in court. If the government’s evidence is inadmissible, then the prosecutor’s office won’t be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Talk to a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney in Confidence
Were you arrested at a protest in New Jersey? If so, you should discuss your case with a New Jersey criminal defense attorney promptly. To schedule a consultation at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., call 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can reach you online now.
Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.