We recently wrote an article in our blog (Phoenix Protest Arrests Thrown Out) about over 100 Phoenix rioting arrests that were thrown out in court for lack of evidence. In the wake of recent events, there have also been a number of arrests for unlawful assembly in Phoenix. The question becomes whether those arrests were justified under Arizona law and under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects our right to join with others in protest.
What is Unlawful Assembly?
The first thing to understand is that unlawful assembly is significantly different than rioting. The crime of riot is a felony, and the essence of the offense is two or more people acting in concert who disturb the peace through violence or the threat of violence. The offense of unlawful assembly, on the other hand, is a class 1 misdemeanor. It is defined in A.R.S. 13-2902, which prohibits two or more people assembling with intent to engage in a riot, or being present at a riot and remaining after being ordered to disperse.
Arrests for unlawful assembly, while common during periods of mass protests, may well be unsupported by the evidence. Simply being in an area where a riot may occur or is occurring, is not an offense.
Unlawful Assembly Arrests in Phoenix
At the demonstrations in Phoenix last month, some of the problems with unlawful assembly arrests were apparent. In one case a woman says she was pinned against a pole by an officer with a riot shield who told her to leave the area. She responded that she was unable to do so, being sandwiched between the cop and the pole. The woman says she was detained for close to 24 hours before being released. In other cases, questions arise as to whether the order to disperse was communicated to the protesters, and whether they were given the opportunity to disperse once they became aware of the order.
If you have been charged with unlawful assembly, know that there are defenses to the charge, and those defenses may lead to a dismissal of the case against you.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004