Legal Groups Launch Pro Bono Legal Fund for Protesters

As protests become more common in American society, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Foundation for Criminal Justice are looking to offer pro bono support to protesters who face legal challenges when using their First Amendment rights.

A couple of prominent legal advocates are hoping to give protesters some help in the coming years.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in partnership with the Foundation for Criminal Justice, has launched a new program to help defend protesters in court in First Amendment cases. The First Amendment Strike Force and Mass Defense Unit, as it’s called, will offer (via NACDL) access to volunteer lawyers that will be able to assist in First Amendment cases on a pro bono basis.

“What concerns us is that people have to know that their rights to protest—and that’s wherever they come from, right wing, left wing, what have you—are protected,” FCJ President Gerald B. Lefcourt explained in a news release. “And there is nobody better positioned to protect people’s right to protest on the street than criminal defense lawyers. Protesters should be secure knowing that if they wish to engage in protest, they will be protected from improper intimidation, protected from improper prosecution, and protected from worse things, like beatings.”

The initiative comes at a time when protests have become commonplace in American society across the political spectrum. Some protests (like that in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August) have become violent, while others have led to arrests under questionable circumstances.

This week, techniques used by St. Louis police officers to arrest protesters en masse drew attention to the issue once again. The protesters were speaking out against the not guilty verdict a police officer received in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith.

NACDL President Rick Jones noted that such protests were very much in the spirit of the group’s mission.

“It is in the greatest tradition of the nation’s criminal defense bar to stand up during times like these on behalf of people in America exercising their First Amendment rights, just as they are standing up for that which they believe,” Jones said in the release. “One need only turn on the evening news to see profound levels of civic engagement, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this nation in a generation or two. People are standing up to police brutality, government overreach, voter disenfranchisement, blatant disregard for the rule of law, and a whole host of other issues affecting the daily lives of millions of people.”

The group is currently looking for volunteers to assist with the program, who it has pledged to train and support at no cost.

Protesters and police interact ahead of the Anthony Lamar Smith verdict last week in St. Louis. (Paul Sableman/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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