The U.S Constitution gives every American citizen the right to express freely their grievances against their state and local governments. This includes the right to protest government actions in a peaceful way. However, this right does not apply to situations where people cross the line from peaceful protest into disorderly conduct that could make it dangerous or impossible for lawmakers to do their jobs. If you attend a government meeting and become disruptive, especially after being asked to stop, you run the risk of being charged with a crime and facing serious penalties including potential jail time.
At Overson & Bugden, our experienced Utah disrupting a public meeting defense lawyers have successfully worked with many clients charged with this crime to get their charges downgraded or dismissed. We are closely monitoring the new way this crime is being charged and the newly tiered penalty system created by a bill signed into law in March 2020. For a free consultation, call our office today at (801) 758-2287.
The Crime of Disrupting a Public Meeting in Utah
Before the legislature passed the 2020 bill to address this issue, disrupting a public meeting was charged under a somewhat bare-bones section of the code. The text of that section reads that 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” can be charged with the Class B misdemeanor of disrupting a public meeting.
This section of the code still exists, and you can still be charged this way. However, it is more likely you will be charged under a separate disorderly conduct section in line with the 2020 changes. The bill that was signed into law by Governor Herbert on March 30, 2020 updated Section 76-9-102 of the Utah Criminal Code to include a clearer definition of what counts a public meeting, what counts as disorderly conduct in that context, and what penalties should be assessed for violations.
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.” This more detailed definition was likely implemented in response to the 2019 meeting of a port authority board in the state that turned violent, and difficulties charging the protestors under the vague law on the book. The new provisions also make it clear that electronic meetings count as meetings for the purpose of this section.
The new law then clearly defines the types of actions that constitute disorderly conduct in the public meetings context:
- 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 Utah
As noted above, it is possible that you still be charged under the old disrupting a public meeting section of the code, as it is still on the books. If charged with this crime, you will face a Class B misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail. However, because the Utah legislature updated the disorderly conduct section in March 2020 with the express intent of dealing with issues related to the disruption of public meetings, it is more likely that you will be charged under that section.
Under the new provisions, a tiered penalty system has been set up based on whether you have been warned regarding your behavior and whether you have been previously convicted of this crime. For your first violation, you are charged with an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $750 or compensatory service. If you have been asked to stop behavior classified by the law as disorderly conduct in the public meeting context, and you do not stop, the charge becomes a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to $750 and up to 90 days in jail.
If you have a previous conviction for this crime, it will be charged as a Class B misdemeanor. As noted above, a Class B misdemeanor is punishable by fines up to $1,000 and jail time up to 6 months. If you have two or more previous convictions for this crime, it will be charged as a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in penalties including fines up to $2,500 and up to 364 days in jail.
What Happens After an Arrest for Disrupting a Public Meeting in Utah
If the crime you are charged with is an infraction, you are likely to be released with a summons. Otherwise, you will be arrested and held in jail until your bail hearing. You or a loved one should contact an experienced bail hearing defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden as soon as possible after the arrest. We can work to get you before a judge quickly and released on little to no bail.
After this, we will work on negotiating a deal with the prosecutor. Possibilities include a pre-trial diversion program, a deal where you plea to a lesser charge, or a deal where the prosecutor recommends a more lenient sentence in exchange for you pleading guilty. If no deal can be reached to your satisfaction, we are ready and able to fight for you at trial.
Call Our Utah Disrupting a Public Meeting Defense Lawyers Today
It is tempting to think of disrupting a public meeting as a minor offense, but it can come with some serious ramifications, especially for repeat offenders. At Overson & Bugden, our Utah disrupting a public meeting defense lawyers have years of experience successfully defending clients charged with this crime. We will leave no stone untuned in our advocacy for you. Call our office today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.