Today is a May Day and, therefore, a perfect time for you to get familiar with some of the laws that affect your protest. The First Amendment of the of the United States Constitution and Article One, Section 4 and 5 of the Constitution of the State of Washington protect your right to free speech and assembly. However, there are restrictions to these rights and if you abuse them there are consequences. Below, I’ve outlined 3 crimes in Washington that are commonly associated with protesting. It is designed to give you a basic understanding of the law and how it could affect you. If you are arrested or charged with any of these, I’d highly recommend contacting a criminal defense attorney immediately.

Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief is when you knowingly and unlawfully use, threaten to use, or participate in the use of force against any other person or against property. Additionally, you must have acted in connection or in participation with at least 3 other people. Criminal mischief is a gross misdemeanor which means you could be sentenced to up to 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. If you are armed with a  firearm, knife, or any other deadly weapon, however, it is considered a class C felony and you could face up to 5 years in prison along with a $10,000 fine.

RCW 9A.84.010

Failure to Disperse

In Washington, if an officer observes conduct from a group of people that he or she believes creates a substantial risk of causing injury to person or substantial harm to property, you will be asked to disperse, or leave the area. If you fail to do so, you may be charged with failure to disperse. Failure to disperse is a misdemeanor which means if you are found guilty, a judge could impose up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

RCW 9A.84.020

Disorderly Conduct

There are 4 ways in which you could be found guilty of disorderly conduct:
1) using abusive language that intentionally causes a risk of assault;
2) unlawfully and intentionally disrupting a lawful meeting or assembly;
3) unlawfully and intentionally disrupting vehicular or pedestrian traffic; or
4) engaging in fighting or tumultuous conduct or making unreasonable noise within 500 feet of, and adversely affects a funeral,
burial, viewing, funeral procession, or memorial service.

Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor which could result in up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

RCW 9A.84.030

If you will be protesting, it’s important to know your rights, and it’s also important to know how to stay out of jail. If you are confronted by the police, please remember the streets are not the appropriate place to be arguing the law. If the cops believe that they have a reason to arrest you or issue a citation, there’s almost nothing you can say or do to make them change their mind. If asked, give them identifying information only! After that, ask if you are free to leave, and if so, leave. If you are being detained, politely ask them why and if you are being charged. Let them know that you don’t consent to any searches and you would like to speak with an attorney. By arguing with them or resisting arrest, you are only strengthening the charge(s) against you and potentially giving them reason to add more. If the police have overstepped their bounds, your attorney would much rather be arguing for a dismissal than for leniency!

ACLU Know Your Rights Guide