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Protest Rights at the Capitol for State of the State

25 Jan

We first posted the “Top 5 Things to Know at Protests” on Feb. 16, 2011. The basics haven’t changed much, despite last year’s Capitol lockdown and the new rules restricting the rights of demonstrators issued by the state Department of Administration in December.

But as we gear up to send volunteer legal observers to the state Capitol to witness the rallies responding to Governor Walker’s second State of the State address, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to reaffirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble at our Capitol. We want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. New rules prohibit signs that attach to walls or that lean, so keep the banners hand-held. Newer prohibitions against musical instruments, including drums, may also be enforced.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don’t violate other people’s rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest, including closing the Capitol building after the State of the State speech event is over. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF). Be friendly to the ACLU observers who will be there in yellow t-shirts or safety vests.

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what is constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.

If you or your organization face restrictions on your right to demonstrate within these guidelines, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540 or give your contact information to an ACLU legal observer.

Warrantless GPS Tracking is a Violation of Fourth Amendment Rights: SCOTUS Decision Cheered by Privacy Defenders

23 Jan

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that if police attach a Global Positioning System tracking device to a car, the Fourth Amendment requires that they get a warrant to do so. The decision, United States v. Jones, protects privacy rights against one intrusive way the police use GPS technology and answers a question the Wisconsin Supreme Court sidestepped in State v. Sveum in 2010. Read more about this privacy victory in the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.

“Police should have probable cause that a crime has been or is likely to be committed before using GPS tracking technology,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “The ACLU of Wisconsin agrees that without a judge’s agreement, police use of warrantless GPS tracking would be a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights. The details of our private lives are revealed by our movements. Allowing police the power to obtain information on the location of anyone’s car and movements, for any reason or for no reason at all, without a valid warrant, is unconstitutional.”

In February 2010, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in State of Wisconsin v. Sveum, urging the Court to hold that attaching a GPS device was a “search or seizure” requiring a warrant under the Wisconsin constitution as well as the Fourth Amendment. The brief warned that approving warrantless GPS could allow police to engage in fishing expeditions to obtain a detailed picture of someone’s personal associations by identifying the churches, bars, protests or doctor’s offices a person visited.

In its decision in July 2010, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sidestepped the question of whether there are any constitutional limits on police use of global positioning system devices to track people in their cars. Instead, the state’s high court decided that a court order obtained by the police satisfied the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Today’s unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court emphatically answers the question the Wisconsin courts left open: the Fourth Amendment protects privacy against intrusive GPS tracking.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Racial Profiling and Knowing Your Rights Continues King’s Debate on Justice

19 Jan

The ACLU of Wisconsin celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a very successful Know Your Rights/Racial Profiling workshop in Racine. The workshop was part of Voces de la Frontera’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration at the Memorial Hall.

About 60 people of all ages learned from ACLU of Wisconsin staff and volunteers how to flex their rights and spot racial profiling. Importantly, attendees also learned how to take action if they are a victim or a witness of police discrimination. The workshop focused on how to handle police encounters such as being stopped on the street or in a car. Many of the participants are now eager to pass the knowledge of their rights onto the rest of their community.

We also debuted our new Know Your Rights bust cards – part of a initiative to make region-specific bust cards listing local community organizations that can assist with law enforcement concerns.

Other speakers helped to put current issues of racial profiling into context. Attendees were focused as Geraldine White, affiliated with the Racine Branch of the NAACP, spoke about her years with the civil rights organization, ths Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and some of the life-changing events that she witnessed there with Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maggie Piery, longtime ACLU of Wisconsin volunteer and a student at UW-Parkside, shared her experiences speaking to law enforcement and community at the Office of Justice Assistance Traffic Stop Data – Racial Profiling listening sessions last month.

Contact us if you’d like to host a Know Your Rights/Racial Profiling workshop.

– Submitted by ACLU of Wisconsin intern, Sharon Cross

Know Your Rights… Just in Time for the Mifflin Street Party in Madison

17 Apr

The American Civil Liberties Union Student Alliance – UW will host a timely “Know Your Rights Workshop” on Wednesday, April 22 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm (check Today in the Union (TITU) for location).

The workshop will be led by Madison criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther of Hurley, Burish, and Stanton Law Firm and a volunteer attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

“I conduct Know Your Rights Workshops regularly on college campuses around the state,” said Guenther. “It is important to me as an attorney to share my legal knowledge with college students who may not know what their constitutional rights are when they find themselves in precarious situations with police officers.”

The workshop will take place ten days prior to the annual Mifflin Street Block party, scheduled for Saturday, May 2. The Mifflin Street Block Party has consistently resulted in many arrests of students and community members. In 2008, 438 attendees were arrested, 383 cited and released, and 51 sent to the Dane County Jail.

“The Mifflin Street Block Party is a well-known haven for arrests and it is important for students to know their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when dealing with Madison Police,” said Guenther.

Event sponsor ACLUSA-UW aims to be a campus and community civil rights educator.

“The ‘Know Your Rights Workshops’ are just a small, but important sample of the work we do on-campus and in the Madison community,” said ACLUSA-UW president and senior Tracy Fleischman. “Most people are unaware of the extent and details of their civil liberties, so we want to change that.”

During Freakfest, Madison’s annual Halloween block party occurring on State Street, members of the ACLUSA-UW handed out “bust” cards to attendees, meant to serve as a reference for party-goers in the event that they are arrested.

“The cards got a very positive response among those attending Freakfest and far fewer arrests occurred than in past years,” Fleischman said. The number of arrests dropped considerably from 2007’s Freakfest, with only 77 arrested, compared to 181 in 2007, 235 in 2006, and 566 in 2005.

Check UW-Madison’s Today in the Union (TITU) on Wednesday April 22nd for the exact location of the event.

For additional information on the “Know Your Rights” workshop and the ACLUSA-UW, contact Steve Horn at or (262) 705-5856.