If you plan to participate in a Las Vegas protest or demonstration, it’s essential to know your rights ahead of time. You also should know what to do if you are detained or arrested and understand the laws that apply to public gatherings in Las Vegas.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble. Free speech includes all types of expression and communication, including protesting and demonstrating.
The protections do not include conduct that constitutes a violation of law, advocates imminent violence, or provokes unlawful actions. Endangering others or physically harassing individuals is also not protected. Blocking the entrance to a building also is not permitted.
Actions such as trespassing, disobeying or interfering with a law enforcement officer, or obstructing a sidewalk or vehicular traffic are not protected conduct, although traffic obstruction may be allowed by a properly obtained permit. Obscene speech and civil disobedience (unlawful protest) similarly are not within the purview of First Amendment protection.
Protests and demonstrations on private property can be conducted only with the permission of the property owner and in accordance with restrictions and conditions imposed by the owner. However, in Las Vegas, the sidewalks and pedestrian bridges directly adjacent to the Strip and Freemont Street are designated public forums, even if privately-owned property. First Amendment activities are permitted in those locations, as long as they do not disrupt others, cause traffic problems, or obstruct movement.
When you protest or demonstrate lawfully on public property, you have the right to take photographs or videos of items and people in plain view. On private property, the owner may limit those rights. You should be cautious when recording or photographing people during a public assembly, especially if you post them to social media. News reports are full of examples of protestor arrests based on photographic or video evidence recorded during an event. Be careful posting about your own protest activities as well, for the same reason.
Federal, state, and local government laws apply to First Amendment conduct and activities during protests and demonstrations. Nevada criminal statutes include a chapter that establishes a number of crimes against the public peace, including breach of peace and unlawful assembly. Clark County and the City of Las Vegas have similar ordinances that regulate possession of specific items (not including guns) at protests and demonstrations. Other local ordinances may apply to specific activities or conduct that occurs during a public assembly as well.
Clark County and the City of Las Vegas require permits for certain First Amendment activities, including those that will block pedestrian or vehicular traffic. A permit also is required to protest on the courthouse steps, although the adjacent sidewalk may be used without a permit. Permits may be required for groups of more than 75 persons in a public park and events that use amplified sound.
Notwithstanding the First Amendment, law enforcement officers have the authority to maintain the peace at a public assembly and to take actions that prevent disruptions or obstruction of pedestrian or vehicle traffic. In some circumstances, police may issue a dispersal order, if there is a clear and present danger of disorder, interference with traffic, or an immediate threat to public safety. Officers must provide notice of a dispersal order, a reasonable opportunity to comply, and a clear, unobstructed exit path.
The most important thing to remember if you are detained or arrested at a public gathering is that you have other important rights in addition to those provided by the First Amendment. You need to assert your Constitutional rights by stating them to law enforcement if you are stopped or questioned.
The police can legally ask you to provide your name. Otherwise, you should not make any statements, except to ask the officer whether you are free to leave if it is not clear whether you are being detained. If the response is negative, or it is otherwise clear that you are being detained, immediately tell the officer that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present during questioning. You also should never consent to a search of yourself, your belongings, or your vehicle.
Try to stay calm and do not argue with or resist the officer, even if you think your First Amendment rights are being violated. To the extent you are able, document everything about the incident, including the officer’s name and badge number and police department name. Gather and write down the names of witness if you can. Take photos of any injuries you receive as well.
If you are detained or arrested, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the soonest opportunity.
If you face state, local, or federal criminal charges in Las Vegas, Henderson, or elsewhere in Clark County, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney who not only understands your rights, the laws, and local courts and practices, but also knows how to investigate and analyze evidence. Attorney Joseph Gersten will evaluate your case based on his extensive investigative background and Las Vegas criminal defense experience. Then, he will develop a strategy to put forward the strongest defense possible.
Your initial consultation is always free-of-charge. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.