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College Student Defense

What Happens If A Student Gets Arrested At A Protest?

By September 7, 2020April 6th, 2022No Comments

Being an American, you have the right to protest peacefully. 

This right remains present even as a student. You are allowed to speak out and pass out flyers and petitions. You also have the right to wear expressive clothing. 

These rights are, however, not without limit. So, while you’re well within your rights to protest as a student, you may not know when you’ve crossed the line. Although you may not mean to break the law, what if you do? And what happens if you get arrested as a result? Or perhaps, you didn’t even break the law, yet you got arrested nonetheless.

DC Student Defense Attorney Shan Wu is here to work with all students facing issues with their university or law enforcement for these types of issues.

What Are Your Rights When You're Organizing Or Attending A Protest As A Student?

Sometimes, you need to get a message across in the loudest way possible. 

What better way to do this than to organize or join a protest? However, before you take to the streets, you need to know what your rights are, and of course, what your limitations are so you don’t enter into legally murky waters.

  • Your rights are most secure at places called “traditional public forums.” Some examples include:
    • Sidewalks
    • Streets
    • Parks
  • You equally have the right to protest on other public property, including:
    • Plazas
    • In front of government buildings

This is allowed so long as you do not block access to the government building or interfere with other purposes the property was created for.

  • You can also protest on private property if the property is yours or if you’ve obtained the permission of the property owner.

Two important things to keep in mind:

  • When you are legally protesting in a public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including the police and federal buildings. On the other hand, if you’re on private property, the owner may have set rules related to photography or video.
  • Counter-protesters have free speech rights as well. Therefore, the police have a duty to treat counter-protesters and protesters equally. They are also allowed to keep both antagonistic groups divided but should permit them to be within sight and sound of one another.

So What Do You Do If The Police Stop You?

Protests can get into a disorganized and frenzied state where police officers may or may not want to respect your rights. But whatever the case may be, your right to assemble is embedded firmly in the Constitution.

As a result, it’s important that you communicate this fact clearly if the police stop you at a protest.

If the police stop you, do not resist, argue, or obstruct the officers, even if you believe that you’ve done nothing wrong. Keep your hands visible to the police and remain calm. Ask the police calmly if you’re allowed to leave.

If the officer says yes, calmly leave the environment.

What Happens If The Police Arrest You?

If, however, the police place you under arrest, you have a right to know the reason. 

Do not try to resist arrest. 

You should choose to remain silent and request a lawyer immediately. You also have the right to make a local phone call.

An arrest, even without a conviction, can have some adverse effects. The arrest can remain on your criminal record and may be visible to any member of the public.

This can affect your chances of a scholarship, or put your scholarship in jeopardy. It can also affect your chances of employment. You may also face the school’s disciplinary proceedings.

That’s why it’s vital to contact an attorney ASAP with experience defending students and young people in these types of situations.

DC Student Defense Attorney Shan Wu Is Here To Help

Being a student does not hinder your right to freedom of speech. However, in exercising that right, you must pay attention to the legal boundaries.

It is, therefore, vital that you are aware of your rights before joining or organizing a protest and contact an attorney if something goes wrong. Contact DC Student Defense today if you or someone you know is a student who had issues at a protest.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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