As an American citizen, you have the valuable right to protest for civil matters you feel passionate about. No one can take this right from you as long as your protest is peaceful and lawful. Unfortunately, tensions between communities and particularly law enforcement have made peaceful protesting incredibly difficult. Police may advertently or inadvertently incite chaos by using force or threats. This can then give law enforcement an opening to arrest if the protest goes sour and starts to become violent.
Even though protesting is a legal right, the state of Colorado does have some anti protesting laws designed to “keep the peace.” Often people who violate these rules are victims of police brutality and only committed the acts for their safety or the safety of others. If you or someone you know has been arrested for protesting, we highly encourage you to seek representation from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Public Protest Laws in Colorado | Criminal Defense Attorney in Colorado Springs
Were you arrested in the middle of a peaceful protest? Did law enforcement use threatening/forceful tactics that caused you and others to violate peaceful protest laws? If so, we urge you to get in contact with the experienced legal team at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC. Our dedicated lawyers believe every citizen’s civil rights should be upheld, including the right to protest.
We understand the stress and fear that may occur after a protest-related arrest and want to do everything in our power to fight for your rights. Call (719) 328-1616 to set up your first consultation with the legal team at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC today. Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC accepts clients throughout the greater Colorado Springs and El Paso County area including Fountain, Monument, Peyton, Manitou Springs, and Black Forest.
Is Protesting a Protected Right?
Yes, the First Amendment under the U.S. Constitution protects your right to assemble and express your views through protest. Unfortunately, law enforcement and government officials are allowed to place restrictions that could minimize your use of free speech. That is why it’s important to brush up on your rights before you participate in or organize a protest.
It’s your right under the U.S. Constitution to use “traditional public forums” as part of your protest. These include streets, sidewalks, and public parks. As long as you are not blocking access to a government building or interfering with the duties of the people working in said building, you can protest in front of it.
Counter protestors also have the right to free speech and law enforcement must treat both sides equally while keeping them separate. Lastly, you are allowed to photograph/record anything in plain view. That includes federal buildings or law enforcement. The rules for photographing/recording private property, however, will depend on the property owner.
Do You Need a Permit to Protest in Colorado?
As stated above, you are allowed to protest in any “public forum.” That means public streets, plazas, and sidewalks are all fair game for a peaceful protest. However, these protests are considered unlawful if they block pedestrians, business entrances, or traffic. Essentially, if the protest interferes with the use of public space, then it’s considered unlawful.
It’s wise to obtain permission to protest when the plan is to gather at a shopping center or public business area. Depending on the size and type of protest, you may be required to obtain a permit. In Colorado, a permit is required to protest if it’s:
- A parade, march, or event doesn’t take place only on the sidewalk and will eventually block traffic/require a street closure
- A demonstration taking place at specific designated parks/plazas
- A rally requiring the use of sound-amplifying devices like a megaphone
When filing for these permits, it’s recommended you do so five to seven days before the actual event. Police cannot use any required procedures to prevent a protest that may be in response to breaking news events. They can, however, place restrictions on the route or sound equipment as long as they are necessary for traffic control/public safety.
Anti Protest Laws in Colorado
Although protesting is a protected right, the state of Colorado has passed laws punishing protestors who “disturb the peace.” These laws were passed with good intentions, but unfortunately, restrict the movements of protestors hoping to share their message. These violations can result in serious penalties including expensive fines and time in jail. Learn more about these anti protesting laws below.
Engaging in a Riot
It may be legal to protest, but in Colorado, if you engage in a “riot” then you may face criminal charges. The state of Colorado defines the term “riot” as any public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more people which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or people. It can also include assemblies that substantially obstruct the performance of any government function.
The law can be incredibly vague on what a “riot” is in comparison with a peaceful protest. Especially when law enforcement or counter protestors use tactics to incite community anger. Engaging in a riot is a class 2 misdemeanor in Colorado, which is punishable by:
- Up to 1 year in prison
- A fine of up to $1,000
Prosecutors may reclassify the offense if the offender uses or represents verbally that they are armed with a deadly weapon, a destructive device, or any item people may reasonably believe is a deadly weapon. If this occurs, the crime is a class 4 felony punishable by:
- Up to 6 years in prison
- A fine of up to $500,000
Disobedience of Public Safety Orders Under Riot Conditions
Public safety orders are court orders designed to prevent or control civil disorder. They are also used to promote the safety of law enforcement, firefighters, military, or other forces that may be near a protest. It’s important to note these orders do not apply to news outlets or third parties observing the protest on behalf of the press.
Knowingly disobeying a reasonable public safety order to move, disperse, or refrain from certain actions is a class 3 misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for a class 3 misdemeanor includes:
- Up to 6 months in jail
- A fine of up to $750
Obstructing a Highway or Passageway
It’s prohibited in Colorado to do any of the following knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly:
- Obstruct any of the following:
- Building entrance
- Stairway or hallway where the public has access used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances
- Disobey a reasonable request or order issued by a police officer, firefighter, or a person with authority to control the use of the premises to prevent an obstruction of a highway or passageway. Orders to maintain public safety by dispersing those near a protest are also included.
In the context of the statute, the term “obstruct” means to render impassable or to render passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.
Violating this law is a class 3 misdemeanor, which can result in:
- Up to 6 months in jail
- A fine of up to $750
Know Your Protestor Rights | ACLU – Visit the official website for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to learn your rights as a protestor. Access the site to read up on what you’re allowed to do under the U.S. Constitution and what could get you arrested.
Anti-Protesting Laws in Colorado – Visit the official website for the Colorado Revised Statues to read up on their laws about protesting. Access the site to read what laws prohibit protesting acts, how you could get arrested during a peaceful protest, and the penalties upon conviction.
Protestor Defense Attorney in Colorado Springs, CO
If you or someone you know has been arrested for peacefully protesting in the state of Colorado, don’t wait another second to protect your future. Call Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC to speak to an experienced attorney with an in-depth understanding of civil rights in this country. Our legal team at Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC can assess your case and begin building a defense for you immediately.