Can You Get Arrested for Protesting in Texas?

Yes, you can be arrested because of a protest. While you have the lawful right to assemble, you can face criminal charges if you unlawfully assemble or commit a criminal act while protesting.

Protests Continue to Abound on College Campuses

Protests have become an increasingly familiar sight in the American landscape. From Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police violence and racial injustice to rallies decrying economic inequality, citizens are taking to the streets to make their voices heard. These movements highlight deep frustrations with the status quo and a yearning for change.

The recent upsurge in campus protests across the U.S. exemplifies this trend. Sparked by the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, thousands of students have been demonstrating against the war's human cost and calling on universities to divest from companies seen as supporting the Israeli military.

Texas Protest Leads to Arrests

At the end of April, 57 people were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing following a UT-Austin protest. While those charges were dropped due to the police having a lack of probable cause, a photojournalist, Carlos Sanchez, has been charged with a misdemeanor offense.

Allegedly, Sanchez hit an officer with his camera between his neck and head (where there is no body armor), which is why the Travis County misdemeanor assault and impeding a public servant charges. However, he maintains that he was pushed and didn’t assault anyone, and the journalism community has denounced the Texas Department of Public Safety’s choice to pursue these charges.

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, National Preside of The Society of Professional Journalists, Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, condemned the decision to charge Sanchez, calling the charges “unconstitutional and vindictive.” She also says that based on the videos of the incident that “it’s crystal clear […] that Sanchez did not intentionally hit anyone.”

While some people believe this arrest is meant to intimidate journalists, others are more focused on why Sanchez and the others initially faced criminal trespass charges. What happened to our right to peacefully assemble?

You Have the Right to Assemble

Yes, people are allowed to conduct a peaceful protest and are protected by the Constitution. However, protesters should be aware of the following:

  • If you protest on private property, the owner of that property can restrict certain acts and set the ground rules for the protest, including guidelines on taking photos and videos.
  • If you protest on private property, you must have proper consent or permission in many cases (or you risk being charged with criminal trespassing).
  • If you protest in a public location, you cannot block traffic (pedestrian or vehicular).
  • If you protest in a public location, you can take photos of anything in plain view, police officers, or anyone/anything in that public place.

Unlawful Assembly | Texas Penal Code § 42.02

An unlawful assembly or a riot is legally defined as a gathering of over six people that leads to conduct that:

  • significantly impacts (to the point of obstruction) government services and law enforcement actions,
  • creates immediate danger for people or of property damage, or
  • deprives a person of their legal right or disturbs their enjoyment of a legal right by physical action, force, or threat of force.

If you knowingly participate in a riot, you can face criminal charges. Specifically, you can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a $2,000 fine and/or 180 days in jail. The charges can be enhanced to an offense of a higher grade if someone at the riot committed a more serious offense “in the furtherance of” the assembly or the offense should have been expected as a result of the riot.

What Can Lead to Arrests at a Protest?

In participating in a protest (that is not lawful or peaceful), you also risk being arrested and charged with:

  • Trespassing. Protestors who fail to obtain permission to protest on private property or who protest and block access to public buildings and government facilities.
  • Obstructing traffic. As we mentioned, you cannot block traffic during a protest. If you do, you are violating Texas Penal Code § 42.03, which is a state jail felony.
  • Assault and battery. In Texas, assault and battery are not separate offenses, but both refer to simple assault or aggravated assault. Assault is defined as recklessly, intentionally, or knowingly threatening to or inflicting harm on another person or intentionally offensively or provocatively engaging in contact with someone else.
  • Looting. In some situations, a protest can escalate and lead to the theft of goods from establishments, which is looting.
  • Criminal mischief (i.e. vandalism). If property is damaged or defaced or government operations are interfered with, you can be charged with criminal mischief.

Arrested During a Protest? Call (817) 435-4970 to Request Counsel!

Being arrested at a protest and/or being convicted of a criminal offense can have lasting consequences. Those involved in the UT-Austin protest are not allowed back on campus except for academic purposes, and Sanchez initially was facing felony charges.

However, with the help of an experienced attorney, you can proactively take steps to protect your rights and future. The team at The Clark Law Firm is available to offer defense counsel to those facing a variety of charges, including:

Contact us to get started on your case today!


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