Protests and civil discourse play a vital role in every functional democracy. The United States is no exception and has long been home to an active and diverse protest environment. Despite a global pandemic, 2020 was a record-breaking year for protest activity across the nation. Experts estimate that between May 24 and August 22 of 2020, there were more than 10,600 different demonstrations across the United States.
The First Amendment of the United States guarantees freedom of speech and expression to every person within its borders regardless of national status. While the debate and exchange of ideas has long been thought to be a litmus test for a healthy democracy, federal law forbids and spells out harsh penalties for groups of people who go beyond regular debate and activism and instead ban together with the goal to overthrow any lawful authority within the jurisdiction of the United States. The law against seditious conspiracy can be found in Section 2384 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Title 18 also includes crimes of rebellion and treason along with other related offenses.
18 U.S.C. § 2384 provides a statutory definition of “sedition” stating that it is a crime for two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to:
- Conspire to overthrow or destroy by force the government of the United States or to level war against them;
- Oppose by force the authority of the United States government; to prevent, hinder, or delay by force the execution of any law of the United States; or
- Take, seize, or possess by force any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.
In order to convict a person of seditious conspiracy, it is the government’s job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant actually conspired with others to use force. Simple advocation for the use of force generally does not meet this burden as this kind of speech is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. An example of permissive free speech would be making a public speech that suggests the need for a “revolution” and to do “whatever it takes” to get one. In this case one has not necessarily conspired to overthrow the United States government but instead has simply engaged in an active dialogue for change. Generally, offensive speech and unsavory opinions also do not meet the threshold of seditious conspiracy as long as they do not directly incite violence. However, specific planning such as working out the logistics of an attack against a governmental authority or distributing firearms along an organized network of other like-minded individuals could meet this threshold. Lastly, one should not be arrested and charged with a crime If they were simply present at a demonstration where others became violent and violated the law unless that person was the one who directly incited or encouraged the crowd to do so.
Attorney for Seditious Conspiracy in Federal Court
If you were arrested and accused of conspiring with an organization whose goal was to overthrow a United States governmental authority by force, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in San Antonio, Texas at Flanary Law Firm, PLLC. Don Flanary represents clients charged with all serious seditious conspiracy crimes in federal court.
Call (210) 738-8383 today.
Demonstrations & Political Violence in America: New Data for Summer 2020 | ACLED (acleddata.com)
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Donald H. Flanary III
“I see our duty as more than just counselors and advocates, but as warriors.”