Unlawful assembly is a little understood charge that many peaceful protesters find themselves facing at one point or another. If you are accused of unlawful assembly, your Vista criminal attorney can help you fight the accusations and protect your First Amendment rights.
California defines unlawful assembly as two or more people assembling for the purpose of doing something illegal or doing something legal in a violent, boisterous or tumultuous manner. While this sounds fairly broad, the courts have widely protected the public’s First Amendment rights against charges of unlawful assembly, ruling that this law can only be used to prohibit assemblies that are violent or that pose a clear and present danger of imminent violence. For this reason, many persons arrested for unlawful assembly will never be brought up on charges and many who are have the charges dropped with the help of their Vista criminal lawyers.
It’s important to note that in order for someone to be convicted of this crime, they must be a willing participant in the unlawful assembly. That means that if you are part of a peaceful protest that turns into an unlawful assembly, you must have a chance to leave the gathering before you are considered a part of the unlawful assembly -although you do not personally need to act in a violent manner. Also, if some small fringe groups break off to commit violent acts while an otherwise peaceful group continues their assembly, those who remain in the peaceful factions cannot be arrested.
Of course, when violence is occurring or there is a strong threat of violence, police often make quick and rash decisions to get people off of the street and prevent any further acts of violence. For this reason, many innocent people are arrested for unlawful assembly charges. In the rare instance that the prosecution insists on filing charges against all persons arrested, they must be able to prove that you were part of the group who turned violent and unruly and were given a chance to leave the group before you were arrested. That is why the defense for these cases often comes down to your Vista criminal lawyer arguing that you were not part of a violent group or a group threatening violence, that you were part of a peaceful faction acting within the law, or that you were not able to disperse from a violent group before you were arrested.
While few convictions of this crime carry the maximum sentence, if you were a leader or a major influence in the violence, the judge may choose to make an example out of you. In these cases, you could be sentenced to up to six months in county jail.
If you have been accused of unlawful assembly, please call Vista criminal attorney Peter M. Liss to discuss your case in a free, no-obligation consultation. You can schedule an appointment any time by calling (760) 643-4050.
Creative Commons Image by Steve Kaiser