GeorgiaLegalAid.orgGeorgia

What are my rights during a protest?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Contents
Protesters' rights in Georgia How to prepare for a protest Learn More Protesters' Rights in Georgia

Protesters' rights in Georgia

What should I know? +

By law, Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services can only provide information about your rights during a protest. We cannot give legal advice or tell you whether to protest.

Contents


Do I have the right to protest?

Both the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions guarantee your right to peaceful protest. However, the government can generally set reasonable restrictions on when, where and how people gather to protest. These restrictions can only be set to prevent danger or disruption of government activity. 

Back to top


Do I need a permit to protest?

In general, smaller groups don’t need a permit to protest on public streets or sidewalks. But, you cannot block traffic or stop other people from using the sidewalks. 

 

The rules for when you need a permit are different across Georgia. If you are organizing a protest, check with the city or county to ask about permit rules. In general, you may need a permit when:

  • Your group exceeds a certain number of people. 

  • You are planning a march that will block traffic or close streets,

  • You have a large gathering at a park or public plaza, or

  • You plan to use microphones and speakers.

 

If a permit is required to protest, the procedures for getting a permit: 

  • must be clear and 

  • must be applied fairly to every applicant.

    • A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial.

Back to top


What are my rights during a protest?

During a protest you have rights. Be aware that these rights may be limited in some ways. 

 

You have the right:

  • To free speech during a protest. You have the right to express your views through your words, signs, flyers, or symbolic acts (wearing a t-shirt or carrying a flag). There are limits on your freedom of speech. Some ways your speech may be limited include:

    •  Your speech is not protected if you are threatening others or asking others to commit crimes.

    • You are on private property. Private property owners can control access and activity on their own property.

    • The size, type, and use of signs and banners can be restricted. For example, in the City of Atlanta, protestors cannot carry signs more than ¼ inch thick.

 

  • To take pictures or video during a protest. As long as you are in a public place, you have the right to photograph or record anything, including law enforcement. 

    • Police officers may not legally take your phone or camera without a warrant or consent. They may not ask you to delete your photographs or video.

    • Police officers may only order you to stop if your filming is truly interfering with their jobs.

 

  • To peacefully protest in a public place. However, if there is violence or a disturbance of the peace, the police may legally disperse the crowd. If you do not disperse when you are ordered to, you may be arrested.  Charges might include:

    • obstructing a public passageway, 

    • disorderly conduct, 

    • loitering, or 

    • failure to obey an authorized person directing traffic, among other things.

Back to top


What are the rights and responsibilities of the police during a protest?

The police have the right to order a crowd to disperse if there is:

  • A substantial risk of violence, or

  • A disturbance of the peace. This includes blocking traffic. 

 

The police must give a warning before they take actions to disperse a crowd. If they do order you to leave, they must tell the crowd:

  • How much time they have to leave,

  • What will happen if you do not leave, and

  • Give a clear path to leave.

 

If you do not follow an order to disperse, you can be arrested.

 

When arresting a person, the police only have the right to use as much force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest. 

Back to top


What are my rights if I am stopped by the police during a protest?

If you are stopped by a police officer during a protest, keep calm. Keep your hands where the officer can clearly see them. You have rights during these encounters, but there may be times when asserting those rights is unsafe. Your safety is the most important thing.

 

Your rights when stopped by a police officer include:

  • You have the right to remain silent. You cannot be arrested for not answering questions. Tell the officer you do not want to talk.

    • You are only required to give your name or show your ID if you are suspected of criminal activity. 

    • It is better to stay silent than to lie to the police. Giving false information could lead to criminal charges.

 

  • Unless you are under arrest, you have the right to leave. Ask the police officer if you are free to leave before you walk away.

 

  • You have the right to refuse a search of your things. An officer may pat you down if they suspect you have a weapon, but may only search your belongings with either your consent or a warrant. 

Back to top


What are my rights if I am arrested during a protest?

You have rights during an arrest. These include:

  • You have the right to ask for identification.

  • You have the right to be told what crime you are being charged with.

  • You have the right to not speak. You do not have to answer any questions or speak to officers. If you wish not to speak, inform the officer that you wish to remain silent and want to talk to a lawyer.

  • Once you are arrested, you have the right to make a phone call. If you are speaking with an attorney, the police cannot listen to your phone call.

  • You have the right to a bail hearing within 48 hours (or 72 if you were arrested with a warrant). At this hearing, the judge will either set bail or release you without bail on a “personal recognizance” bond. 

    • If you are arrested for a misdemeanor, the bail amount might be set automatically, so you will not need to have a bail hearing. You should be told of the bond amount when you are booked. 

 

If you are arrested, do not resist. Resisting arrest can lead to more charges.

Back to top

What can I do? +

By law, Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services can only provide information about your rights during a protest. We cannot give legal advice or tell you whether to protest.

Contents


What can I do if my rights are violated during a protest or arrest?

Even if a police officer is violating your rights, you should try to remain calm in the moment. Take note of information that you can use when filing a complaint later, including:

  • The officer’s badge number, name, and any information about the agency they work for.

  • If there are witnesses, including anyone who filmed or photographed the violation.

  • If you are hurt during the incident. Document any injuries.

 

Once you feel safe, file a written complaint with the agency where the officer works. You can find the contact information for a law enforcement’s internal affairs or civilian complaint board on the department’s website. 

Back to top


How do I post bail if I am arrested?

Bail is a certain amount of money that must be posted with the court. By posting bail, you avoid having to wait in jail until your trial. The money is a guarantee that you will appear in court for each required court appearance and for the trial.

 

Judges set the bail amount. For some less serious misdemeanors, Georgia courts may have a preset bail. This means all people charged with this crime have the same bail amount. In this case, you do not have to wait for a judge to set bail, and you may be able to post bail within a few hours. You are generally allowed to post bail at some point after you go through the booking process.

 

There are several options for posting bail:

  • Own recognizance. You are released on your promise that you will show up for your court appearances. It is up to the judge whether this option will be available.

  • Cash bail. This means that you pay the full amount of your bail. If you appear at your hearings, you can get this amount back.

  • Property bond. You may be able to use your property or the property of someone you know to guarantee that you will appear in court. A lien is placed on the property.

  • Bail bondsman. This is a company that will, for a fee of between 12-15% of the bail amount, guarantee to the court that they will pay the full bail if you do not appear in court. This amount is non-refundable.

Back to top


Where can I get help posting bail?

By regulation, Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services are not able to represent or bail out protestors. However, there are some organizations that help low-income people pay their bail after being arrested for protesting. In Georgia, contact:

Back to top

How to prepare for a protest

By law, Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services can only provide information about your rights during a protest. We cannot give legal advice or tell you whether to protest.

 

If you decide to protest, you can prepare by:

  • Letting someone know that you are going to the protest, and where the protest is located. 

  • Attending protests with a group of people, if possible. 

  • Writing the number of the local bail fund on your person in case you lose your phone or it is taken from you.

  • Looking for marshals or legal observers at the protests. They are typically law professionals who wear green hats at the protests, and they are there to help protect your rights. If you are being arrested, try to tell a legal observer your name. Although it is important to know that this is not always possible. 

 

Take precautions before going to a protest. Know that you may be arrested, and you should have a plan. For example, if you are arrested, you may need a plan to: 

  • notify your employer, 

  • arrange childcare, 

  • prepare to contact a bail fund, or 

  • contact a friend/family member with resources. 

 

If you can’t be arrested -- perhaps because of immigration status, lack of childcare, or fear of losing employment -- you need to be very careful at protests. 

 

Assess your individual risk factor when making your decision of whether to protest. 

 

Understand that at this time COVID-19 does present additional risks to protestors. If you are immunocompromised, elderly, or otherwise at risk, you should consider these factors when making your decision. 

 

There are other ways to protest from a distance. 

Learn More

By law, Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services can only provide information about your rights during a protest. We cannot give legal advice or tell you whether to protest.

 

By regulation, Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services are not able to represent or bail out protestors. However, there are organizations that can help.

 

Find Bail Support

 

Find Legal Help

These organizations may be able to provide legal help if you are arrested during a protest:

 

Protesters' Rights in Georgia

 

Rights During a Stop or Arrest in Georgia

View transcript

Last Review and Update: Jun 04, 2020