Now that the inauguration is over and President Trump is busy fulfilling his campaign promises, criminal protesting is in full swing. The inauguration itself has led to an escalation of hate that has caused such a division in America, there is no telling if and when this will end. The democrats and their supporters are extremely upset about President Trump taking over the leadership of our country and organized massive protests at the presidential inauguration and plan more for future events that promote Donald Trump’s agenda. But protestors beware!! Although the First Amendment protects a person’s right to free speech, there is a federal statute that criminalizes protesting activities that may rise to the level of “disrupting official government business or functions”. We have already seen that more than 200 people were arrested on inauguration day.
Title 18 of the United States Code, section 1752, criminalizes certain behavior that protestors often engage in. Federal prosecution for a violation of section 1752 can be sought against any person who intentionally impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of official government business or official government functions at a restricted building or grounds, or impedes the ingress or egress to the building or grounds. The statute also criminalizes any act of physical violence against a person or property in the restricted building or grounds, including an attempt or conspiring with others to do so. The punishment for this type of criminal activity ranges from a fine and/or up to 10 years of prison if the person uses or carries a weapon, or causes significant bodily injury.
This should cause all those who plan to take part in any of these types of “demonstrations” some concern. Many democratic supporters may argue that peaceful protests are constitutionally protected activity, however, given the level of anger that has arisen from the democratic supporters and Trump haters, how could they possibly think these “demonstrations” would actually be peaceful? We have already seen how upset college aged millennials have been since the election ended, needing to have campus “cry-ins” to deal with the aftermath. This added to the trump supporters who have attacked protestors only adds fuel to the fire. This is a recipe for complete disaster, which has already resulted in numerous arrests at these demonstrations.
If a protestor gets arrested and charged she will have to decide how to proceed in the criminal case. Going to trial and fighting a 1752 violation may be the path to take considering there is hardly any federal case law discussing this statute. Analyzing this type of situation in terms of potential evidence, given the crazy chaos that normally ensues as a result of these emotionally driven demonstrations, the prosecution may find it extremely difficult to prove the required conduct to establish a violation beyond a reasonable doubt. Chaotic situations result in a challenge of obtaining clean, solid trial testimony from witnesses. Maybe this explains why case law is almost non-existent on this statute.
Any protestor who is facing federal charges resulting from protesting activity should consult with an experienced federal criminal attorney who can properly assess their case and give sound advice on whether to fight the case or take it to the box and let a jury decide.