The U.S. constitution guarantees all citizens the right to free speech and the right to peaceably assemble to protest actions taken by our government. These rights are considered some of the most sacred in Utah and throughout America, but that does mean that they do not come without limits. In Utah, while protests are permitted outside of public meetings, citizens attending such meetings in-person cannot be disruptive to the point of disorderly conduct or they could be charged with a crime.
A new bill, signed into law in March 2020, has changed the definition of this type of disorderly conduct and imposed a tiered penalty system. At Overson Law, PLLC, our Salt Lake City disrupting a public meeting defense lawyers have years of experience successfully fighting to get this charge downgraded or dismissed for our clients. We have been closely following the recent change in the law and what it means for our clients facing this charge. For a free consultation, call our office today at (801) 758-2287.
Definition of Disrupting a Public Meeting
Prior to the 2020 update to the law, disrupting a public meeting was defined in the Utah code only as an individual “intending to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering [who] obstructs or interferes with the meeting, procession, or gathering by physical action, verbal utterance, or any other means.” This new provision is actually a change to a separate section of the code used to prosecute disorderly conduct. As such, it is possible that you could still be charged under the old code section as well, as it has not been overturned. The changes to the disorderly conduct law were designed to provide an expanded, clearer definition of what counts as a public meeting, what counts as disruptive behavior, and what the penalties should be.
Under the revised code section, signed into law by Governor Herbert on March 30, 2020, 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. This includes meetings conducted electronically. For example, a meeting of a local port authority board, like the one in 2019 that turned violent and likely spurred this change to the law, would be considered a public meeting.
The new provision also delineates more clearly what is considered disorderly conduct in the public meeting context. The following are some of the ways you can violate the new provision:
- Refusing to comply with a law enforcement officer’s request to move from the public place or official meeting
- Knowingly creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition
- Engaging in fighting or violent behavior
- Making unreasonable noises in the public place or official meeting
- Making unreasonable noises in a private place which can be heard in the public place or official meeting
- Obstructing vehicular traffic to the public place or official meeting
Penalties for Disrupting a Public Meeting in Salt Lake City
Since the actual charge of disrupting a public meeting is still on the books, it is possible that you may be charged with that crime. If so, it is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, because the changes to the disorderly conduct law were made specially with regard to conduct occurring in the context of public meetings, it is more likely that you will be charged under that provision if you disrupt a public meeting in some way now.
Under the code revisions, a first offense will likely be charged as an infraction, punishable by fines of up to $750 or compensatory service. If the conduct occurs after the individual has been asked to cease conduct prohibited by the new provisions, it will be charged as a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750. If the person has been asked to cease as has a prior conviction for this offense, the charge will be upped to a Class B misdemeanor. If the person has two or more prior convictions, the charge will be upped to a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and fines of up to $2,500.
How Cases for Disrupting a Public Meeting Are Handled in Salt Lake City
If your charge is an infraction, you will just be issued a ticket with a court date on it. For more serious iterations of this charge, you are likely to be arrested. You will need to go before a judge before a bail hearing before you can be released. Our experienced bail hearing attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC can work to get this hearing scheduled as quickly as possible and advocate for you to be released with little to no bail.
After this, our attorneys will attempt to work out a deal with the prosecutor. If this is your first time charged with this crime, we may be able to get the prosecutor to agree to let you into a pre-trial diversion program. If you complete this program successfully, your charges are dropped. In other cases, the prosecutor may offer to downgrade the charges or to recommend a lenient sentence in exchange for you pleading guilty. If you wish to take your case to trial, our lawyers are ready and able to mount an aggressive defense of your innocence.
Call Our Seasoned Salt Lake City Disrupting a Public Meeting Defense Lawyers Today
The laws regarding charges of disrupting a public meeting have recently been amended to be more specific. Now, you can be charged with a higher crime each time you commit this offense. At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced Salt Lake City disrupting a public meeting defense lawyers are here to guide you through this confusing process and answer any questions you have about your case. We will fight for your story to be heard. For a free consultation, contact our office at (801) 758-2287 today.