What to Expect When You’re Resisting
Thanks to Ann Wilcox of the DC National Lawyers Guild (NLG) for compiling. The DC chapter of National Lawyers Guild is often available to do briefings and trainings for groups considering actions. The NLG can also provide support and legal assistance for the court process, if appropriate.
If you are considering risking arrest, PLEASE organize legal support – click here for guidelines and resources or contact the Peace Center for more info. Please note: some of this information will not pertain to being arrested by jurisdictions other than Capitol Police. Contact the Peace Center if you’re not sure whose jurisdiction you’d fall under or for assistance with training or legal support.
Q: What should we expect when planning an action on Capitol Hill?
A: Doing actions in the Capitol Building has more risks of severe chargest than in Congressional office buildings. You can’t touch the Supreme Court steps with any signs of protest (including buttons!). To find hearing schedules, go to http://www.capitolhearings.org/.
Q: What can you do in a Congressional hearing?
A: You are legally permitted to wear a t-shirt with messaging in Congressional hearings (except Judiciary Committee). You can hold up small papers with your messaging in hearings, but you may get kicked out – you can’t on the House, you can in the Senate (it’s up to the discretion of the chairperson of the committee if he or she will let you stay.
Q: We want to do a sit-in in a congressional office. Will we get arrested?
A: If you do not leave after warnings are given by Capitol Police, you will be placed under arrest for Unlawful Entry (refusal to leave after being requested by the staff-person in charge of the office). This is a misdemeanor, not a serious charge but one which will involve at least a couple of court appearances. (You can’t “post and forfeit” a fine for unlawful entry). The congressional staff may allow people to stay in the offices –depending on whether they are friendly or not.
Q: If yes, will people be held overnight?
A: In all likelihood, they will be given a citation release, and court date to return to DC Superior Court. If they are from out of town (Balt-Wash area) they MAY be held overnight, to see the judge the next day.
Q: What would be the charge?
A: Unlawful Entry, (full information printed below). Since the congressional offices are public property, you can request a jury trial for this charge. ( which for activists can be another opportunity to publicize the issue, etc.). Even though the congressional office is a public place, if you refuse to leave after being requested by the staff-person in charge, police can place you under arrest.
Q: Will people be asked to pay a fine? Roughly how much? What are the consequences?
A: For unlawful entry, you must come back to court: there you may be able to reach a diversion agreement with the US Attorney’s office (may include community service and a stay-away from the congressional office). If defendants successfully complete the diversion agreement, their case will be dismissed and there will be NO conviction on their record.
If you are in the congressional office hallways, rather than inside the offices themselves, the charge could be Unlawful Assembly or Disorderly Conduct: these are more minor charges, and you may be able to “post and forfeit” a fine, on the same day. This means you could pay out of the system and wouldn’t have to see a judge or have a court date.
Q: When applying for jobs, would people have to report this arrest on applications?
A: If you go to trial on the Unlawful Entry charge and lose, you would have a conviction on your record, and would have to report on applications. However, if you are allowed to do diversion/community service, they may be able to avoid convictions. If you can “pay and forfeit,” it also won’t show up on your record.
Q: What happens when arrestees want to come to congressional buildings in the future? How will they be treated?
A: If they have completed their case and there is no stay-away order, they are allowed to come and go as before. While their case is pending, they may have a stay-away from the congressional office building where the arrest occurred (this should not be violated, or they will be rearrested for contempt)
Q: Where do they take you when you get arrested?
A: If you’re arrested by Capitol Police, they have two locations where they take arrestees, depending on the size of the group that gets arrested. If you are a group of 10 or more they will take you to the processing center on K and Half street SW. It is actually their storage garage for
all their vehicles, so you are not put in a cell pre-say but instead lined up on in a big empty
room. The closest Metro to this site is waterfront on the Green line.
If you are a group of less then ten you are taken to the Capitol Police Headquarters on D between 1st and 2nd NE. The reason that they take you to either location is because their holding cells can only fit a certain amount of people. At the headquarters there are two holding cells that can
hold a maximum of 5 people of the same sex each.
Please note there is no exact science of where you will be sent since outside factors can also play a big role. For example if a group of 7 gets arrested they may be taken to the storage garage if earlier in the day an unrelated group got arrested and they had 7 people too. Or in other words, its not always about how many people are in your group but how many people the Capitol Police are processing at that moment.
Please note – the arrestees’ friends and legal observers can and should ask the arresting cops where they are taking them. Just be polite about it and they are usually happy to tell you once the arrestees are in the van.
Q: If people want to draw attention by doing something aggressive on the Hill without getting arrested, what would you suggest?
A: Many groups often use signs and rallies, or may get a permit for a rally in locations such as Upper Senate Park. US Capitol Police will process the permit request. (If groups rally without obtaining a permit in advance, that may constitute “demonstrating without a permit” on Capitol Grounds. But if you are outside, rather than inside the buildings, you may be able to have some impromptu rallies.) Click here for advice on getting a permit.
Law regarding Unlawful Entry on Property
The charge is below (part B covers refusal to leave, after being requested) § 22-3302.
(a)(1) Any person who, without lawful authority, shall enter, or attempt to enter, any private dwelling, building, or other property, or part of such dwelling, building, or other property, against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof, or being therein or thereon, without lawful authority to remain therein or thereon shall refuse to quit the same on the demand of the lawful occupant, or of the person lawfully in charge thereof, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, imprisonment for not more than 180 days, or both. The presence of a person in any private dwelling, building, or other property that is otherwise vacant and boarded-up or otherwise secured in a manner that conveys that it is vacant and not to be entered, or displays a no trespassing sign, shall be prima facie evidence that any person found in such property has entered against the will of the person in legal possession of the property.
(2) For the purposes of this subsection, the term “private dwelling” includes a privately owned house, apartment, condominium, or any building used as living quarters, or cooperative or public housing, as defined in section 3(1) of the United States Housing Act of 1937, approved August 22, 2020 (88 Stat. 654; 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)), the development or administration of which is assisted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or housing that is owned, operated, or financially assisted by the District of Columbia Housing Authority.
(b) Any person who, without lawful authority, shall enter, or attempt to enter, any public building, or other property, or part of such building, or other property, against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof or his or her agent, or being therein or thereon, without lawful authority to remain therein or thereon shall refuse to quit the same on the demand of the lawful occupant, or of the person lawfully in charge thereof or his or her agent, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.