A person who makes what Colorado statutes refer to as “an obviously offensive utterance, gesture or display” in a public place commits the crime of Disorderly Conduct. C.R.S. § 18-9-106(1)(a). The statute requires that the act be knowing, intentional, or reckless, which covers quite a large range of mental states as criminal statutes go. Public fighting, discharge of a firearm, and displaying a deadly weapon can also constitute disorderly conduct. Generally, disorderly conduct is charged as a petty offense. However, if the act is committed for the purpose of disrupting a funeral, it is a class 2 misdemeanor. The funeral language in the statute was amended in 2006 pursuant to the Right to Rest in Peace Act, and is likely squarely aimed at those who protest war veteran funerals. As such, this provision may yet be challenged as a violation of protestors’ rights to free speech. At least one other provision of this same statute was previously deleted after being found unconstitutional as to free speech. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court took up a similar issue in a different context, protecting funeral protestors’ political speech in a civil lawsuit.
At Ready Law, we believe that nothing gets closer to the heart of American identity than the right for citizens across the political spectrum to non-violent protest. We believe when ideas are exposed to fair competition, as in a free and open marketplace of ideas, better ideas usually rise to the top. When unpopular ideas are silenced, only the truly bad ideas benefit in the long term. All Americans should be free to express political dissent and unpopular opinions without retaliation by the government or its agents. Of course, they should also do so without brandishing weapons. The right to express dissent is subject to pre-determined limits which keep the marketplace of ideas free, and those limits most needed are nearly universal and heedless of the message or content of a specific protest. For example, we generally do not have a right to incite violence, or to protest in private businesses without permission of the owners, and cities may sometimes require permits for demonstrations without regard for the political content of the message. If you or someone you know has been detained or arrested by law enforcement during a political demonstration or protest, call our office today to see how Ready Law can help. Depending upon our availability and current caseload, as well as the circumstances of your case, we may be able to offer representation at a significantly reduced rate, or in some select cases, without any fees at all. If your case is not a criminal one, but you feel your constitutional right to free speech has been violated, consider contacting the American Civil Liberties Union, or a law firm specializing in civil rights litigation.