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New law regulates protests in Oklahoma

With so many political demonstrations and counter-demonstrations popping up all over the United States, it's a good idea to understand the laws that affect protesters here in Oklahoma.

In the wake of an uptick in demonstrations and protests in recent years, no fewer than 18 states — including Oklahoma — have introduced legislation designed to curtail protest activities by passing laws that make certain activities illegal and enhancing the existing penalties already on the books.

According to the website for OK Energy Today, in May, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed HB 1123 into law. Inspired in part by allegedly disruptive actions by those protesting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, the bill's author, Chickasha Rep. Scott Biggs, intended the law to be a preventative measure to protect sites where critical infrastructure is located from damage or disruption by protesters.

Under the new law, those arrested for trespassing on alleged critical properties face misdemeanor charges that could cost them fines of $1,000 fine, 180 days in jail, or both. If those alleged trespassers intentionally impeded operations or inflicted damages, fines are increased to $10,000 and the incarceration time to a year in prison.

Trespassers could face felony charges for destroying equipment, and have a $100,000 fine levied against them, along with prison terms of as long as a decade. Trespass activities involving conspiracies can bring fines of ten times what it would be for an individual intruder.

Civil rights activists accuse these laws of impinging on people's First Amendment rights. Even the United Nations weighed in, with the special rapporteur calling the anti-protest bills "a worrying trend" that would stifle protests here in America.

One lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called out the new laws as "unconstitutional" and "a betrayal of American values."

If you are arrested at an Oklahoma protest, it is wise to lawyer up early and begin working on a strategic defense that will hopefully end in acquittal or dismissal of the charges.

Source: CNN, "Numerous states considering anti-protest bills," Linh Tran, accessed Aug. 18, 2017

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