Police Arrest Two Dozen Unruly Downtown Protestors

Even if the demonstration is lawful, criminal trespass charges might still hold up in court. However, there are a number of possible defenses.


Bellevue, WA -- (ReleaseWire) -- 02/25/2020 --Twenty-eight climate change protestors are in police custody after they refused to leave a Chase Bank building in downtown Seattle.

Officers arrived at the building about noon, after some protestors allegedly refused to leave the bank's lobby. Most of the group complied with the officer's request to move onto the sidewalk, but thirteen men and fifteen women remained inside.

A police spokesperson said the intransigent demonstrators said they wanted to be arrested. They were transported to the King County Jail.

"We have probably all seen footage of the brutal way police officers suppressed civil rights protests in the 1960s," remarked Seattle criminal defense attorney Lennard A. Nahajski. "Thankfully, things rarely get that heated today. But emotions still run high at many of these events, whether they are staged or not."

Freedom of assembly is one of the core principles in the First Amendment. However, authorities have the right to regulate the time, place, and manner of these assemblies. In general, demonstrations are lawful unless the demonstrators infringe on the rights of others or disobey a lawful order. In some jurisdictions, police also have the power to break up assemblies if they create a nuisance or disturbance, but that's extremely subjective.

In the above story, the order in question was probably a criminal trespass warning. Contrary to popular myth, "trespassing" is not a crime. Rather, the crime is a refusal to obey a "go away" criminal trespass warning. Some public places, such as restaurants, sometimes post no-trespassing signs. These signs might or might not serve as criminal trespass warnings.

Generally, criminal trespass is a simple misdemeanor which could mean a maximum 90 days in jail. Aggravated trespass is a gross misdemeanor (up to one year in jail). The difference between the two is a bit vague. Generally, prosecutors file aggravated trespass charges if the defendant made a scene or resisted officers.

There are a number of defenses. Trespass charges do not hold up in court if the building was abandoned. That's different from "closed" or "unoccupied at the time." Furthermore, defendants are not guilty as a matter of law if they complied with all the establishment's rules and regulations. This second issue sometimes comes up in rowdy party situations.

Filming the police is a somewhat related matter. In the Ninth Circuit, which includes Seattle, it is legal to use a cell phone or other device to video police as they perform their official duties. People must obey reasonable commands, like "stand over there," as long as the commands do not substantially interfere with filming. However, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on this issue, so the law could change.

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Lennard Nahajski

View this press release online at: http://rwire.com/1279243