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Indiana lawmaker proposes enhanced punishments during protests

| Sep 15, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

In late August, U.S. Representative Jim Banks of Indiana’s Third District proposed a new bill to the House of Representatives. Backed by Republican senators, the Support Peaceful Protest Act introduces new penalties for those convicted of a federal crime during a protest.

Republican lawmakers back the new act, claiming that its penalties will decrease criminal activity during protests. Amid the 2020 pandemic and nationwide protests over extra-judicial killings of Black people at the hands of police, Mitchell Hailstone, Rep. Banks’ communications director, hopes the act can restore “the long-standing tradition of American peaceful protests.”

Penalties include withholding federal relief funds

In March 2020, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This $2.2 trillion stimulus bill sent emergency funding to individuals and businesses impacted by the 2020 pandemic. Part of the CARES act includes unemployment assistance for over 30 million people out of work due to COVID-19.

The Support Peaceful Protest Act would prohibit people convicted of crimes during a protest from receiving these emergency pandemic funds. Additionally, the bill supports an order of restitution, which holds these criminals financially liable for the cost of federal police efforts in response to these crimes. A federal court would determine the total cost of the policing action, passing that along to the criminal as a fine.

Additionally, the act seeks to make these criminals ineligible to receive enhanced unemployment benefits like those distributed under the CARES Act. This ineligibility would extend to all supplemental unemployment compensation during the COVID-19 health emergency.

Dissenters to the bill believe it undermines citizen rights and puts them at considerable risk when exercising their right to free speech. Many argue that protestors already fund police action through their tax dollars. Others claim the bill’s language is classist, assuming all protestors require federal unemployment.

Arrested during a protest? Consider legal counsel

Those arrested during a protest find more success in protecting their rights by securing counsel from a local attorney familiar with Indiana’s criminal defense laws. A lawyer can assess the case and work with law enforcement officials.