Can I Face Criminal Charges for Protesting in Texas?

Protesting in and of itself is a right protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; that said, certain actions taken during protests, such as vandalism, trespassing, or violence, can lead to criminal charges.

The right to peacefully assemble and protest is a fundamental aspect of freedom of expression. However, as recent events have shown, the exercise of this right can sometimes lead to clashes with law enforcement or legal consequences. This means it’s important to understand your rights and the criminal charges you could face for engaging in certain activities during a protest.

Protesting & Disorderly Conduct

Protestors are commonly charged with disorderly conduct. Under Texas law (Texas Penal Code § 42.01), a person commits disorderly conduct if they intentionally or knowingly engage in conduct that disrupts the peace of others. This broad statute can encompass a wide range of behaviors, including making unreasonable noise, fighting, or using offensive language in public. During protests, law enforcement may use this statute to initiate arrests.

As a Class C misdemeanor, disorderly conduct is punishable with a fine of up to $500.

Trespassing & Property Damage

Protestors can also be charged with trespassing and property damage. While peaceful demonstrations are protected by the First Amendment, entering private property without permission or causing damage to property can lead to criminal charges.

Texas law (Texas Penal Code § 30.05) defines criminal trespass as knowingly entering or remaining on someone else's property without consent. As a Class B misdemeanor, trespassing can be penalized with a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.

Similarly, protestors who engage in vandalism or destruction of property during protests may face charges for criminal mischief under Texas law (Texas Penal Code § 28.03). In this case, the penalties of a conviction scale with the value of the property destroyed.

In Texas, criminal mischief can result in the following penalties:

  • $500 fine for damage valued at less than $100
  • $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail for damage valued between $100-$750.
  • $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail for damage valued between $750-$2,500.
  • $10,000 fine and up to two years in state jail for damage valued between $2,500-$30,000.
  • $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison for damage valued between $30,000-$150,000.
  • $10,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison for damage valued at greater than $150,000.

Obstruction of Traffic & Public Order

Protests that spill onto roadways or impede the flow of traffic can pose safety risks and may result in legal consequences. In Texas, obstructing a highway or other passageway is a misdemeanor offense under Texas Penal Code § 42.03. A conviction for this offense could result in a jail sentence of up to six months.

Resisting Arrest & Protesting

Protestors can be charged with resisting arrest, a serious offense that can result in severe legal consequences. The penalties for resisting arrest can vary depending on the circumstances of the incident and the severity of the resistance.

Resisting arrest is typically charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the level of force used and whether any injuries occur:

  • Class A Misdemeanor: Resisting arrest without the use of force or violence is generally classified as a Class A misdemeanor in Texas. The potential penalties for a Class A misdemeanor can include up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000.
  • Third-Degree Felony: Resisting arrest with the use of force or violence against a law enforcement officer is typically classified as a third-degree felony in Texas. The potential penalties for a third-degree felony can include a prison sentence ranging from 2-10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

You may be charged with resisting arrest for physically resisting arrest, going limp, or preventing a police officer from arresting someone else.

Contact a Lawyer for Legal Assistance

If you were charged with a crime while attending a protest, it’s important to consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and you can challenge unfair criminal charges that occurred while you were exercising your rights.

For more information and to seek legal assistance, contact online today.