Disrupting a Lawful Meeting or Assembly
CRS 18-9-108

In Colorado, it is a criminal offense to obstruct a sidewalk or disobey an order by the police to move away from a hazard. It is also a crime to disrupt a lawful assembly. Obstruction and disrupting an assembly are misdemeanor crimes, with penalties including up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $750. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:

1. What are protesting offenses in Colorado?

In Colorado, it is a criminal offense for an individual to:

  • Obstruct a sidewalk, building entrance, or hallway;
  • Disobey a reasonable request by a police officer to move; or
  • Disrupt a lawful assembly.

These types of criminal charges often accompany protests, where an individual or group of individuals is determined by police to be causing a disruption. This may include political protests, striking workers, complaints of business practices, protesting police actions, protesting government action or inaction, or demonstrations.

2. What is disrupting lawful assembly?

“A person commits disrupting lawful assembly if, intending to prevent or disrupt any lawful meeting, procession, or gathering, he significantly obstructs or interferes with the meeting, procession, or gathering by physical action, verbal utterance, or any other means.”1

A “lawful assembly” may include a city council meeting, school assembly, church meeting, or campaign rally. This may include shouting during political speeches, interrupting or drowning out the speaker, or not complying after an authority tells the protester to leave.

3. What is obstructing a highway?

In Colorado, it is a criminal offense for an individual or group of people to obstruct a passageway where a substantial group of the public has access. This includes:

  • Highway
  • Street
  • Sidewalk
  • Railway
  • Waterway
  • Building entrance
  • Elevator
  • Aisle
  • Stairway
  • Hallway. 2

“Obstruction” means rendering impassable or to render passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.3 This could include a group of protesters surrounding a building entrance, a student sit-in that makes passage dangerous or impassable, or protesters closing off a street.

It is also a criminal offense to disobey a reasonable request or order to move issued by a police officer, firefighter, or person with authority to control the use of the premises. These must be reasonable requests to prevent obstruction of a passageway or to maintain public safety by dispersing individuals gathered in dangerous proximity to a hazard, such as a riot.

4. What are the penalties for protesting offenses?

Disrupting a lawful assembly is a class 3 misdemeanor.4 Obstructing a passageway or disobeying a request to disperse are also class 3 misdemeanors. The penalties for a class 3 misdemeanor conviction include up to 6 months in jail and up to $750 in fines.

However, if the lawful assembly was a funeral, or the obstruction blocked off a funeral site or funeral procession, the offense is a class 2 misdemeanor.5 The penalties for obstructing or disrupting a funeral include 3 to 12 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

5. What are the defenses to protesting offenses?

Arresting people for disrupting a lawful assembly or obstructing a sidewalk is a common way for police to put an end to a lawful protest. Even if the individuals have not broken any laws, they may be arrested and never charged.

When people are charged with criminal obstruction or other protesting offenses, they have a number of possible legal defenses. Common defenses to protesting offenses may include:

  • Mistaken identification
  • The defendant was attempting to leave the area when he or she was arrested
  • The defendant was an innocent bystander
  • No passageways were obstructed
  • The police never ordered anyone to move

6. Related Offenses

6.1. Loitering C.R.S. 18-9-112

It is a petty offense in Colorado to loiter within 100 feet of a school when anyone under 18 is present or you have been asked to leave by school administrators. The penalties for loitering near a school include up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

6.2. Rioting Offenses C.R.S. 18-9-104

Inciting or engaging in a riot is a criminal offense, with possible misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the types of actions alleged and whether a weapon was involved. Felony engaging in a riot can result in 2 to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

6.3. Disorderly Conduct C.R.S. 18-9-106

Disorderly conduct in Colorado includes making coarse and offensive gestures, displace, or utterances that tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. This includes fighting, making unreasonable noise, or discharging a firearm in public. Disorderly conduct can be charged as a petty offense or misdemeanor, depending on the conduct involved.

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If you have been arrested for protesting or obstructing a passageway, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. 

Legal References

  1. C.R.S. 18-9-108(1)
  2. C.R.S. 18-9-107(1)
  3. C.R.S. 18-9-107(2)
  4. C.R.S. 18-9-108(2)
  5. C.R.S. 18-9-107(3)

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