Ferguson, Missouri, has been a hotbed of conflict between protesters, reporters, and law enforcement, with police seemingly arresting and allegedly abusing members of the press earlier this week.
As civilians feel more and more squeezed by the authority and force of police, it's only natural for the public to demand answers to serious legal questions.
Here are five common legal questions (and some general answers) relating to the events in Ferguson:
1. Can You Be Arrested for Protesting?
Yes you can, but it doesn't mean that you've lost any of your civil rights. Arrests during protests are typically accomplished under laws that prevent disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace. Make no mistake, though: being a part of a protest does not immunize you from crimes you may commit while part of the throng. Assaults on police officers, vandalism, and looting are all arrestable offenses even during a protest.
2. Do Cops Need to 'Mirandize' You Upon Arrest?
No. TV shows and movies often show cops reading a suspect his or her Miranda rights as they load him or her into a squad car. However, in reality, these warnings are not required unless:
- The suspect is in police custody, and
- The suspect is being (or will be) questioned by law enforcement (or an agent of such).
If any of these elements is missing, the potential dangers of police interrogation (at least according to the Supreme Court) are not strong enough to require a Miranda warning. That means that if you've been arrested, you may be in police custody, but you won't need to be read your Miranda rights until an officer starts asking questions.
3. Can Cops Handcuff You Without an Arrest?
Yes. While arrest is certainly one of the most common ways civilians find themselves in handcuffs, officers may handcuff you without an arrest or probable cause.
4. Do Cops Have to Tell You Why You're Being Arrested?
In general, no: Police officers do not have to share with you the reason for your arrest (though some state laws like New York's do require it, unless it's impractical in a particular situation). Probable cause is necessary for you to be arrested in the first place, but your right to know which offense you were suspected of committing may not be satisfied for days after you are brought into custody.
5. Can You Record Police With Smartphones, Cameras?
Yes. You may legally record police activity in public, but you may be legally arrested if your recording interferes with police operations -- so give them their space.
If you have more questions like these, consult with a criminal defense attorney in your area.
- Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.
- Ferguson shooting protests: In Oregon, it's perfectly legal to film police (but audio is gray area) (The Oregonian)
- Reporter's Arrest in Ferguson Raises Legal Questions (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Mike Brown, 18, Killed by Police in Mo.; Protests Ensue (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Is It Legal to Defend Your Business From Looters? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)