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Arrested During A Protest - For What?!

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Arrested During A Protest - For What?!

Protests have sparked at universities across the country over Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza strip.  These Pro-Palestinian protests have included university students and those not directly attached to the universities.  The nature of the protests are different from university to university, but generally focus on demands that universities sever their ties with companies that support Israel.

Now university students and other individuals involved in the protests are being arrested across the country and in Florida including at University of South Florida in Tampa, Hillsborough County, but for what?

If you thought that the First Amendment protects any type of protest, you would be only partially correct.  The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances and other rights.  While free speech is protected at public university campuses, it is not similarly protected at private universities where such private institutions are not bound by the First Amendment.  Further, while the First Amendment protects free speech, it does not protect threats, inciting violence, discriminatory harassment, trespass, or other violations of the law even while an individual is exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Students and individuals in Florida and specifically in the Tampa Bay area have been arrested for failure to comply with university rules where police have been called in to enforce those rules.  In some cases universities have ordered the protesters to disperse which has been met with passive and physical resistance leading to numerous criminal charges including but not limited to the following offenses:

Trespass After Warning can be charged when law enforcement has issued a warning to leave the premises and the individual refuses to leave.  Resisting Arrest Without Violence (Obstruction) can include when an individual opposes an arrest by law enforcement by even the slightest incidence of bracing, pulling away, tensing up, or generally not cooperating during the arrest.  Resisting Arrest With Violence and Battery On A Law Enforcement Officer can occur when an individual counters an arrest by touching a law enforcement officer against his or her will that can include pushing, striking, punching and even spitting on the officer.  Criminal Mischief can be charged when an individual purposefully and maliciously damages the real or personal property of another.  Disorderly Conduct can be charged when an individual negatively affects the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them, or engages in brawling or fighting, or engages in such conduct as to constitute a breach of the peace.

There are a number of defenses for those arrested at a protest.  These defenses can include mistaken identity as police oftentimes make indiscriminate arrests in the heat of the moment.  As well, lack of probable cause for an arrest may be argued if the facts and circumstances of the arrest do not add up to a reasonable person’s belief that a law has in fact been violated.  Arguing selective prosecution may also be a negotiation tactic used with the State Attorney’s Office to resolve a criminal charge.  As well, a lack of criminal intent (mens rea from Latin - "guilty mind") may be argued in addition to the lack of a prior criminal history.

This is not the first time protesters have been arrested in recent times.  During the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Corona Virus (COVID-19) protests, and abortion protests demonstrators were arrested.  This trend will continue as new social movements and political protests come to the forefront.

If you or your university student have been arrested for a criminal offense of any type, call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736, Option 1 for New Clients for a strategic review of your case and representation.  The Morris Law Firm handles misdemeanor and felony criminal cases throughout the Tampa Bay area and is dedicated to criminal defense.
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