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Tennessee General Law Blog

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New Tennessee Law May Make Protests Illegal

After more than two months of protests against police brutality, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a new law revising criminal laws surrounding protest-related offenses and making it illegal to camp on state property.

Protesters who get arrested for illegal camping on state property will now face a felony punishable by six years in prison. In Tennessee, people convicted of a felony lose their voting rights.

Increased Punishments for Some Protesters in 2020

After protests against police violence began in June 2020, dozens of protesters slept outside the state Capitol for more than two months. During the demonstrations in Nashville, protesters reportedly created an autonomous zone in front of the state Capitol. Denouncing the protesters’ actions, the governor warned that “autonomous zones and violence will not be tolerated.”

He reminded protesters of an existing law that made it illegal to camp on state property. In response to the protesters’ actions, the Tennessee legislature passed two bills HB 8005 and SB 8005, revising the state’s criminal laws surrounding protest-related offenses and ramping up punishments for certain kinds of protests.

Gov. Bill Lee Cracked Down on Certain Protests in Tennessee

The new Tennessee law introduced the following changes:

The law, which amended Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 8, 38, 39, and Title 40, went into effect on October 1, 2020.

The New TN Law Stripped Voting Rights from Protesters

Many opponents of the governor’s measures criticized the state for stripping voting rights from protesters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In Tennessee, convicted felons face six years in prison and lose their voting rights. They are required to appeal to the state to have their voting rights restored.

The Republican-dominated Senate passed the new Tennessee law 26-5 on a mostly party-line vote. The House approved the legislation 71-20. Tennessee joined many other states whose lawmakers passed laws to increase penalties for different kinds of protests and restrict the rights of protesters.

Although the new Tennessee law does not make protests illegal, it does send a message to protesters to discourage them from participating in protests. Many critics said the new law violates Tennesseans’ Constitutional rights.

The First Amendment says that legislatures shall not pass any laws abridging “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” or to petition the government for “a redress of grievances.” However, protesters and law enforcement agencies have different opinions of what a peaceful protest is.

If you were arrested for protesting in Tennessee, do not hesitate to contact a Manchester criminal defense attorney. If you do not fight back against the charges, you risk losing your voting rights and freedom. Contact the Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart to schedule a case review. Call at (931) 954-1066.

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