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Tennessee General Law Blog

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In Tennessee, You Can Lose Voting Rights if Arrested at a Protest

A felony conviction will result in loss of voting privileges. After a new law in Tennessee goes into effect, protesting might fall into that category.

The right to protest is fundamental. It is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the right to assemble), and history has shown us that it is a critical way in which change is made. As such, protesting itself is not inherently illegal - quite the contrary. But there are certain protesting-related offenses that are unlawful, such as disorderly conduct. With protesters occupying the Ida B. Wells Plaza in front of the Nashville capitol for months, legislatures have decided to crack down. Here is what you need to know.

New Legislation Signed into Law

HB8005 (or SB8005) - an Act to Amend Tennessee Code…Relative to Criminal Law, is a bill that makes a few changes to existing criminal law statutes. The bill addresses vandalism, assault against a first responder, inciting a riot, obstruction of a highway, illegal camping, and graffiti. The legislation increases the penalties for almost all of these crimes to different classes of misdemeanors or to felony crimes in some cases. For example, it is well known that protesters will often camp at the site of protest for multiple nights, weeks, or even months in some cases. This legislation increases the punishment for illegal camping on a state property from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days imprisonment, as well as an order of restitution for any property damage or loss incurred to the property.

To be clear, protesting itself will not result in criminal charges or felony charges - or at least it should not. Engaging in any other behaviors that are commonly associated with protesting just might, however. If a person is convicted of a felony, they will have their voting privilege revoked. Note that if you do lose your right to vote because you are convicted of a felony, you can appeal to have those rights restored.

Get Help if You are Facing Criminal Charges in Tennessee

Exercising your right to assemble is important. Sometimes, exercising that right might include other actions, such as camping on state property or obstruction of a roadway. If protesting-related actions result in felony charges, the smartest thing that you can do is to call a qualified lawyer. A smart lawyer will be able to advise you of your best options for navigating your case, and will work to make sure that the evidence submitted against you was legally obtained, that you understand your options related to pleading not guilty or negotiating a plea bargain, and that your rights are protected throughout the process. At the office of Burch, Morrison, and Stewart, our goal is to secure the best-case outcome for you as possible.

To learn more about our criminal defense legal services in Tennessee and what to do if you are facing felony criminal charges as a result of a protesting-related activity, please call us directly today or send us a confidential message at your convenience.

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