Throughout the United States and here in Utah, the American people put a great deal of value on our representative form of government and holding our elected officials accountable. We put this into practice by exercising out constitutional rights to free speech and to peaceably assemble for protests. However, these rights do not come without certain limits. When it comes to disrupting a public meeting through disorderly conduct, pushing these limits could lead to serious penalties including high fines and long jail sentences.
At Overson Law, PLLC, our Utah disrupting a public meeting lawyers have years of experience working with clients across the state to get their charges downgraded or dismissed. We will fight so that you do not end up facing the most serious potential ramifications. Below, our lawyers explain the changes made to the way this crime is charged by a March 2020 law, and how this affects the penalties you might face if you plead guilty or are convicted.
When Can I Be Charged for Disrupting a Public Meeting in Utah?
In early 2020, the Utah legislature took up the issue of clarifying and expanding the law related to disrupting a public meeting. Although it was not made explicit, this was likely in reaction to a series of port authority meetings in greater Salt Lake City in 2019 where protestors repeatedly interrupted the meetings and, on at least one occasion, became violent. There was confusion about whether the meetings in question constituted public meetings under the law that was then on the books to charge someone with disrupting a public meeting.
As such, a bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert on March 30, 2020. This bill was actually not a replacement of or amendment to the existing section of the code regarding disrupting a public meeting, but an amendment of a related section of the code regarding disorderly conduct in the context of public meetings. The new law gives a more detailed description of what constitutes a public meeting, what actions constitute disorderly conduct in the context of a public meeting, and introduced a new, multi-tiered penalization system.
Under the new provisions, a public meeting is defined as “a meeting of the Legislature, the Utah Senate, the Utah House of Representatives, a legislative caucus, or any committee, task force, working group, or other organization in the state legislative branch, or a meeting of an entity created by the Utah Constitution, Utah Code, Utah administrative rule, legislative rule, or a written rule or policy of the Legislative Management Committee.” The new law also makes clear that electronic meetings are considered public meetings for the purpose of this section of the code.
The law further delineates the types of conduct that would be considered disorderly conduct in the context of a public meeting. Anytime you refuse to comply with a law enforcement officer’s order to move or leave the meeting, this is a chargeable offense. Other types of conduct that can be charged under this provision include creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition, causing a fight, or making unreasonable noises.
Penalties for Disrupting a Public Meeting in Utah
Because the original disrupting a public meeting charge is still on the books, the police and prosecutors will have the option of charging you under this section if you “intend to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering [to] obstruct or interfere with the meeting, procession, or gathering by physical action, verbal utterance, or any other means.” This charge is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $1,000 and a prison term of up to 6 months. However, in amending the disorderly conduct section to include clearer information about what constitutes disrupting a public meeting, the legislature likely signaled its intent for the crime to be charged this way in most cases.
Under these new provisions, most first offenses would be charged as an infraction, punishable by fines of up to $750 and compensatory service. If you were asked to cease the disruptive behavior and do not, the charge can be upped to a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $750 and up to 90 days in jail. If you have one prior conviction for this crime, any new charge will be upped to a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by the same penalties listed above. If you have two or more prior convictions, the charge will be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to $2,500 fines and up to 364 days in jail.
How Will My Disrupting a Public Meeting Case Play Out in Utah After My Arrest?
If you are charged with the infraction version of this crime, the police will usually just issue you a citation with a court date on it and let you go. However, for misdemeanor charges, you are typically arrested and booked at the local station before being held in jail until your bail hearing. At this hearing, a judge will decide whether you can be released on your own recognizance, or without bail, whether bail can be set and how much, or if you must be held in jail until the underlying matter is resolved. An experienced Utah bail hearing attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC, can fight to get you in front of a judge for this hearing as soon as possible and released on minimal to no bail.
After this, we will work with the prosecutor to negotiate a deal. This may include you participating in pre-trial diversion in exchange for the charge being dropped, or the prosecutor downgrading the charges to something less serious in exchange for a guilty plea. If you do not wish to take a deal, our skilled Orem criminal defense lawyers will fight to defend your innocence at trial.
Call Our Utah Disrupting a Public Meeting Defense Lawyers Today
Especially with the new law making changes to the way this crime is charged, being accused of disrupting a public meeting can be a very painful and confusing experience. However, it is important that you act quickly to protect your rights by obtaining qualified counsel who can help you avoid the most negative potential outcomes. At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys know how to fight for your side of the story to be heard. We will do everything in our power to bring your case to a satisfying resolution. Call our firm today at (801) 758-2287 for a free, confidential consultation.