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Controversy in Oregon Regarding the Crime of Interfering With a Peace Officer

In 1997, the Oregon Legislature created the crime of INERFERING WITH A PEACE OFFICER, which is codified in ORS 162.247.

The statute makes it a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of $6250, for a person to intentionally act in a manner that prevents, or attempts to prevent, a peace officer from performing the lawful duties of the officer with regard to another person, or refusing to obey a lawful order by the peace officer.

Many of the protesters who have been arrested in Portland over the past 4 months have been charged with committing the crime of Interfering with a Peace Officer.  Many protesters have not been charged with assault, riot, or vandalism, but merely the crime of Interfering with a Peace Officer.

As a result, peaceful protesters have complained that law enforcement is violating their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

The crime of Interfering with a Peace Officer does not cover mere passive resistance.  However, many non-violent protesters are still seized for this such charge, and usually released after spending a night in jail.  In making arrests for Interfering with a Peace Officer, many protestors believe that the police are purposefully trying to dissuade others from attending protests, in hopes that the protests will eventually be discontinued.

In Portland, citizens are especially witnessing firsthand this issue. Kristina Narayan, a top aide to the Oregon House Speaker, was recently arrested during a protest that turned bitter as police instigated a riot.  According to a spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau, protestors the night of Narayan’s arrest were told multiple times to disperse, but they did not comply.  Because of this noncompliance, a riot began due to police engagement.  Narayan is one of many who were arrested on a charge of Interfering with a Peace Officer because of situations such as these.  Once booked in the Multnomah County Jail, however, Narayan was subsequently released without having to post bail.  According to Narayan, she had been taking pictures of other protestors being apprehended when informed that she was also being placed under arrest for multiple false charges.

The Oregon Supreme Court has expressed that this particular law is not valid unless paired with more serious crimes, crimes that Narayan simply did not commit.  In fact, many protestors across the country are frequently being struck with arrests because of this charge, even despite protesting peacefully.  Non-violent resistance should not be classified underneath this charge, nor should anyone be arrested for engaging in peaceful protests aiming for positive change.

Newly elected Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt has announced that his office does not intend to prosecute non-violent protesters who are merely charged with Interfering with a Peace Officer, Resisting Arrest or Disorderly Conduct.  Nevertheless, an arrest can carry great stigma, even if the charges are ultimately dismissed.  Mugshots sometimes remain on privately maintained websites even after the underlying arrest is expunged.  Legislators have stated they intend to take a closer look at this statute, with an eye to repealing laws such as this which unfairly target people who are doing nothing more than exercising their right to freedom of speech.  Our law firm supports such reform efforts, and we are willing to represent protesters in seeking expungement of their arrests, for no cost, if no criminal charges are pursued.

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