The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees that citizens have the right to peacefully assemble, protest, and speak their minds. Those rights are universal for all citizens—but there are certain Florida protest laws that go on to define protected and restricted protest activities.
Sometimes, individuals are arrested for violating protest laws and face criminal charges for legally engaging in protected expressions of free speech. If you’ve been arrested for protesting, you need a defense attorney on your side to protect your rights and freedoms from infringement.
What Are Florida Protest Laws?
Florida protest laws place limits on protected protest activities and outline what kinds of activities are not permitted or are otherwise restricted.
In general, protestors are allowed to peacefully assemble and share their views in public places, but there are certain restrictions on where, when, and how assemblies can come together and protest. These are also known as “time, place, and manner” restrictions.
Many Florida protest laws are vague and open to interpretation. That means law enforcement officers could potentially arrest protestors for engaging in legal activities, depending on their interpretation of the law. It is important to consult a defense lawyer if you have questions about these laws or have been arrested for legally engaging in your right to protest.
What Is Protected Under Florida Protest Laws
There are many activities that are protected under Florida law, even if they are subject to time, place, and manner restrictions. Protestors are allowed to peacefully assemble in public areas, including beaches, parks, sidewalks, and squares, or on private property with the consent of the property owner.
Some examples of protected protest activities include:
- Vigils. Peaceful candlelight vigils are a legal and protected activity.
- Marches and gatherings. A march is one of the most common ways to protest. Marching and assembling in public forums is legal as long as the flow of traffic is not disrupted. Some areas require permits for marches, so check with local ordinances before organizing a march that has the potential to stop the flow of traffic.
- Displaying signs, posters, or artwork on your own property. It’s legal to display posters on property you own on or private property where the owner has given permission for signs to be displayed.
- Distribution of leaflets, petitions, or pamphlets. As long as you are not disrupting traffic or blocking the entrances to buildings, it is legal to hand out different forms of literature to passersby or ask them to sign petitions. Be sure to have permission from the property owner if doing so on private property.
- Burning or desecrating a flag. Burning or damaging the US flag is legal and considered a form of free speech according to the US Supreme Court.
What Protest Laws Do Not Protect
The law prohibits protest activities that may harm, disrupt, or intimidate others. However, it is often difficult to clearly define when an activity is considered intimidating or disruptive. Because of that difficulty, peaceful protestors have the potential to be arrested for legal activities.
Here are some examples of activities that are prohibited or restricted under Florida law:
- Physical violence/fighting (also called “affray”). This is defined as touching, striking, or hitting another person with the intent to cause harm. However, it is legal to act in self-defense.
- Intimidation or threats. Florida protest laws state it is illegal to display signs, hold posters, or put up artwork that may threaten or intimidate others. The vagueness of this law could potentially lead to the arrest of innocent protestors who are practicing their rights to free speech.
- Property damage/vandalism. It is not legal to spray graffiti, smash windows, damage cars, or tamper with the electricity/plumbing of a building in the name of protest. Causing damage that costs under $1000 to repair is a misdemeanor; over $1000 is a third-degree felony.
- Trespassing. It is illegal to trespass on private or restricted property during a protest.
- Wearing a mask or disguise. It is technically illegal to cover your face with a mask or hood while at a public protest in certain circumstances. In practice, this law is difficult to enforce—especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic requiring individuals to wear face coverings in public.
- Disruption of schools or religious ceremonies. It’s considered a second-degree misdemeanor to disrupt schools or places of worship with protest activities.
What To Do If You’re Arrested for Violating Protest Laws
If you’re arrested for violating Florida protest laws, you need a skilled defense attorney on your side to defend your rights and freedoms in a court of law—especially if you believe you acted lawfully but were still arrested.
Those who are arrested for breaking protest laws may be hit with heavy fines, fees, or even jail time. A defense attorney from our team here at Mike G. Law can help you understand your rights and fight for you in court. The legal details of protesting are complicated, so it’s important to have a law expert to advocate on your behalf.
Contact Us For Help
As a US citizen and resident of Florida, you have the right to peacefully engage in protests and let your voice be heard. Law enforcement may use faulty interpretations of the law to arrest and charge you for legally expressing your beliefs. In that situation, you need the support of an experienced defense attorney.
If you need help determining if your planned protest event is legal or if you’ve been arrested for violating Florida protest laws, contact us today by filling out the form below. We’re here to stand up for your rights and freedoms.