Code of the District of Columbia

Subchapter I. First Amendment Assemblies.


§ 5–331.01. Short title.

This subchapter may be cited as the “First Amendment Assemblies Act of 2004”.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 101, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.02. Definitions.

For the purposes of this subchapter, the term:

(1) “First Amendment assembly” means a demonstration, rally, parade, march, picket line, or other similar gathering conducted for the purpose of persons expressing their political, social, or religious views.

(2) “MPD” means the Metropolitan Police Department.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 102, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.03. Policy on First Amendment assemblies.

It is the declared public policy of the District of Columbia that persons and groups have a right to organize and participate in peaceful First Amendment assemblies on the streets, sidewalks, and other public ways, and in the parks of the District of Columbia, and to engage in First Amendment assembly near the object of their protest so they may be seen and heard, subject to reasonable restrictions designed to protect public safety, persons, and property, and to accommodate the interest of persons not participating in the assemblies to use the streets, sidewalks, and other public ways to travel to their intended destinations, and use the parks for recreational purposes.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 103, 52 DCR 2296.)

Section References

This section is referenced in § 5-331.04 and § 5-331.07.


§ 5–331.04. Reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on First Amendment assemblies.

(a) The MPD shall recognize and implement the District policy on First Amendment assemblies established in § 5-331.03 when enforcing any restrictions on First Amendment assemblies held on District streets, sidewalks, or other public ways, or in District parks.

(b) The MPD may enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on First Amendment assemblies by:

(1) Establishing reasonable restrictions on a proposed assembly prior to its planned occurrence though the approval of a plan, where the organizers of the assembly give notice;

(2) Enforcing reasonable restrictions during the occurrence of an assembly for which a plan has been approved, which are in addition to the restrictions set forth in the approved plan, where the additional restrictions are:

(A) Ancillary to the restrictions set forth in the approved plan and are designed to implement the substance and intent in the approval of the plan;

(B) Enforced in response to the occurrence of actions or events unrelated to the assembly that were not anticipated at the time of the approval of the plan and that were not caused by the plan-holder, counter-demonstrators, or the police; or

(C) Enforced to address a determination by the MPD during the pendency of the assembly that there exists an imminent likelihood of violence endangering persons or threatening to cause significant property damage; or

(3) Enforcing reasonable restrictions on a First Amendment assembly during its occurrence where a plan was not approved for the assembly.

(c) No time, place, or manner restriction regarding a First Amendment assembly shall be based on the content of the beliefs expressed or anticipated to be expressed during the assembly, or on factors such as the attire or appearance of persons participating or expected to participate in an assembly, nor may such restrictions favor non-First Amendment activities over First Amendment activities.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 104, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.05. Notice and plan approval process for First Amendment assemblies — Generally.

(a) It shall not be an offense to assemble or parade on a District street, sidewalk, or other public way, or in a District park, without having provided notice or obtained an approved assembly plan.

(b) The purpose of the notice and plan approval process is to avoid situations where more than one group seeks to use the same space at the same time and to provide the MPD and other District agencies the ability to provide appropriate police protection, traffic control, and other support for participants and other individuals.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (d) of this section, a person or group who wishes to conduct a First Amendment assembly on a District street, sidewalk, or other public way, or in a District park, shall give notice and apply for approval of an assembly plan before conducting the assembly.

(d) A person or group who wishes to conduct a First Amendment assembly on a District street, sidewalk, or other public way, or in a District park, is not required to give notice or apply for approval of an assembly plan before conducting the assembly where:

(1) The assembly will take place on public sidewalks and crosswalks and will not prevent other pedestrians from using the sidewalks and crosswalks;

(2) The person or group reasonably anticipates that fewer than 50 persons will participate in the assembly, and the assembly will not occur on a District street; or

(3) The assembly is for the purpose of an immediate and spontaneous expression of views in response to a public event.

(e) The Mayor shall not enforce any user fees on persons or groups that organize or conduct First Amendment assemblies.

(f) The Mayor shall not require, separate from or in addition to the requirements for giving notice of or applying for approval of an assembly plan for a First Amendment assembly, that persons give notice to, or obtain a permit or plan from, the Chief of Police, or other District officials or agencies, as a prerequisite for making or delivering an address, speech, or sermon regarding any political, social, or religious subject in any District street, sidewalk, other public way, or park.

(g) The Mayor shall not require, separate from or in addition to the requirements for giving notice of or applying for approval of an assembly plan for a First Amendment assembly, that persons give notice to, or obtain a permit or plan from the Chief of Police, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or any other District official or agency as a prerequisite for using a stand or structure in connection with such an assembly; provided, that a First Amendment assembly plan may contain limits on the nature, size, or number of stands or structures to be used as required to maintain public safety. Individuals conducting a First Amendment assembly under subsection (d) of this section may use a stand or structure so long as it does not prevent others from using the sidewalk.

(h) The Mayor shall not require, separate from or in addition to the requirements for giving notice of or applying for approval of an assembly plan for a First Amendment assembly, that persons give notice to, or obtain a permit or plan from, the Chief of Police, the Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or any other District official or agency as a prerequisite for selling demonstration-related merchandise within an area covered by an approved plan or within an assembly covered by subsection (d) of this section; provided, that nothing in this subsection shall be construed to authorize any person to sell merchandise in a plan-approved area contrary to the wishes of the plan-holder.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 105, 52 DCR 2296.)

Section References

This section is referenced in § 37-131.03.


§ 5–331.06. Notice and plan approval process for First Amendment assemblies — Processing applications — Appeals — Rules.

(a)(1) Subject to the appeal process set forth in subsection (d) of this section, the authority to receive and review a notice of and an application for approval of a plan for a First Amendment assembly on District streets, sidewalks, and other public ways, and in District parks, and to grant, deny, or revoke an assembly plan, is vested exclusively with the Chief of Police or his or her designee.

(2) Persons or groups providing notice to and applying for approval of a plan from the District government to conduct a First Amendment assembly on a District street, sidewalk, or other public way, or in a District park, shall not be required to obtain approval for the assembly from any other official, agency, or entity in the District government, including the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, the Mayor’s Special Events Task Group, or the Department of Parks and Recreation.

(b)(1) The Chief of Police shall take final action on a notice of and an application for approval of a plan for a First Amendment assembly within a reasonably prompt period of time following receipt of the completed application, considering such factors as the anticipated size of the assembly, the proposed date and location, and the number of days between the application date and the proposed assembly date, and shall establish specific timetables for processing an application by rules issued pursuant to subsection (e) of this section.

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3) of this subsection, where a complete application for approval of a First Amendment assembly plan is filed 60 days or more prior to the proposed assembly date, the application shall receive final action no later than 30 days prior to the proposed assembly.

(3) Following the approval of an assembly plan in response to an application pursuant to paragraph (2) of this subsection, the Chief of Police may, after consultations with the person or group giving notice of the assembly, amend the plan to make reasonable modifications to the assembly location or route up until 10 days prior to the assembly date based on considerations of public safety.

(c) The Chief of Police shall inform the person or group giving notice of an assembly, in writing, of the reasons for any decision to:

(1) Deny an application for approval of a First Amendment assembly plan;

(2) Revoke an assembly plan prior to the date of the planned assembly; or

(3) Approve an assembly plan subject to time, place, or manner restrictions that the applicant has advised the Chief of Police are objectionable to the applicant.

(d)(1) Any applicant whose proposed assembly plan has been denied, revoked prior to the date of the planned assembly, or granted subject to time, place, or manner restrictions deemed objectionable by the applicant, may appeal such decision to the Mayor or the Mayor’s designee, who shall concur with, modify, or overrule the decision of the Chief of Police.

(2) The Mayor shall make a decision on appeal expeditiously and prior to the date and time the assembly is planned to commence, and shall explain in writing the reasons for the decision.

(e)(1) Within 90 days of April 13, 2005, the Mayor, pursuant to subchapter I of Chapter 5 of Title 2, and in accordance with this subchapter, shall issue rules governing the approval of plans to persons or groups seeking to conduct a First Amendment assembly on District streets, sidewalks, or other public ways, or in District parks.

(2) Existing procedures for the issuance of permits to persons or groups seeking to conduct a First Amendment assembly on District streets, sidewalks, or other public ways, or in District parks, that are not inconsistent with this subchapter shall remain in effect pending the issuance of the rules promulgated under paragraph (1) of this subsection.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 106, 52 DCR 2296; Mar. 14, 2007, D.C. Law 16-262, § 406, 54 DCR 794.)

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 16-262, in subsec. (a)(2), substituted “Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency” for “District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency”.

Delegation of Authority

Delegation of Mayor’s Rulemaking Authority under Section 106(e)(1) of the First Amendment and Police Standards Act, see Mayor’s Order 2006-37, March 17, 2006 ( 53 DCR 5077).

Delegation of Authority-City Administrator, see Mayor’s Order 2006-108, August 11, 2006 ( 53 DCR 7301).


§ 5–331.07. Police handling and response to First Amendment assemblies.

(a) The MPD’s handling of, and response to, all First Amendment assemblies shall be designed and implemented to carry out the District policy on First Amendment assemblies established in § 5-331.03.

(b)(1) Where participants in a First Amendment assembly fail to comply with reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, the MPD shall, to the extent reasonably possible, first seek to enforce the restrictions through voluntary compliance and then seek, as appropriate, to enforce the restrictions by issuing citations to, or by arresting, the specific non-compliant persons, where probable cause to issue a citation or to arrest is present.

(2) Nothing in this subsection is intended to restrict the authority of the MPD to arrest persons who engage in unlawful disorderly conduct, or violence directed at persons or property.

(c) Where participants in a First Amendment assembly, or other persons at the location of the assembly, engage in unlawful disorderly conduct, violence toward persons or property, or unlawfully threaten violence, the MPD shall, to the extent reasonably possible, respond by dispersing, controlling, or arresting the persons engaging in such conduct, and not by issuing a general order to disperse, thus allowing the First Amendment assembly to continue.

(d) The MPD shall not issue a general order to disperse to participants in a First Amendment assembly except where:

(1) A significant number or percentage of the assembly participants fail to adhere to the imposed time, place, and manner restrictions, and either the compliance measures set forth in subsection (b) of this section have failed to result in substantial compliance or there is no reasonable likelihood that the measures set forth in subsection (b) of this section will result in substantial compliance;

(2) A significant number or percentage of the assembly participants are engaging in, or are about to engage in, unlawful disorderly conduct or violence toward persons or property; or

(3) A public safety emergency has been declared by the Mayor that is not based solely on the fact that the First Amendment assembly is occurring, and the Chief of Police determines that the public safety concerns that prompted the declaration require that the First Amendment assembly be dispersed.

(e)(1) If and when the MPD determines that a First Amendment assembly, or part thereof, should be dispersed, the MPD shall issue at least one clearly audible and understandable order to disperse using an amplification system or device, and shall provide the participants a reasonable and adequate time to disperse and a clear and safe route for dispersal.

(2) Except where there is imminent danger of personal injury or significant damage to property, the MPD shall issue multiple dispersal orders and, if appropriate, shall issue the orders from multiple locations. The orders shall inform persons of the route or routes by which they may disperse and shall state that refusal to disperse will subject them to arrest.

(3) Whenever possible, MPD shall make an audio or video recording of orders to disperse.

(f)(1) Where a First Amendment assembly is held on a District street, sidewalk, or other public way, or in a District park, and an assembly plan has not been approved, the MPD shall, consistent with the interests of public safety, seek to respond to and handle the assembly in substantially the same manner as it responds to and handles assemblies with approved plans.

(2) An order to disperse or arrest assembly participants shall not be based solely on the fact that a plan has not been approved for the assembly.

(3) When responding to and handling a First Amendment assembly for which a plan has not been approved, the MPD may take into account any actual diminution, caused by the lack of advance notice, in its ability, or the ability of other governmental agencies, appropriately to organize and allocate their personnel and resources so as to protect the rights of both persons exercising free speech and other persons wishing to use the streets, sidewalks, other public ways, and parks.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 107, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.08. Use of police lines.

No emergency area or zone will be established by using a police line to encircle, or substantially encircle, a demonstration, rally, parade, march, picket line, or other similar assembly (or subpart thereof) conducted for the purpose of persons expressing their political, social, or religious views except where there is probable cause to believe that a significant number or percentage of the persons located in the area or zone have committed unlawful acts (other than failure to have an approved assembly plan) and the police have the ability to identify those individuals and have decided to arrest them; provided, that this section does not prohibit the use of a police line to encircle an assembly for the safety of the demonstrators.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 108, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.09. Identification of MPD personnel policing First Amendment assemblies.

The MPD shall implement a method for enhancing the visibility to the public of the name or badge number of officers policing a First Amendment assembly by modifying the manner in which those officers’ names or badge numbers are affixed to the officers’ uniforms or helmets. The MPD shall ensure that all uniformed officers assigned to police First Amendment assemblies are equipped with the enhanced identification and may be identified even if wearing riot gear.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 109, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.10. Documentation of arrests in connection with a First Amendment assembly.

(a) The MPD shall cause every arrest in connection with a First Amendment assembly to be documented, in writing or electronically, by the officer at the scene who makes the arrest.

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, the arrest documentation shall be completed at a time reasonably contemporaneous with the arrest, and shall include:

(1) The name of the person arrested;

(2) The date and time of the arrest;

(3) Each offense charged;

(4) The location of the arrest, and of each offense;

(5) A brief statement of the facts and evidence establishing the basis to arrest the person for each offense;

(6) An identification of the arresting officer (name and badge number); and

(7) Any other information the MPD may determine is necessary.

(c)(1) The Chief of Police may implement a procedure for documenting arrests in connection with a First Amendment assembly different from that set forth in subsection (b) of this section where the Chief determines that an emergency exists with regard to a specific First Amendment assembly, and that implementation of the alternative procedure is necessary to assist police in protecting persons, property, or preventing unlawful conduct; provided, that any such procedure shall adequately document the basis that existed for each individual arrest.

(2) The determination of the Chief of Police made pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be made in writing and shall include an explanation of the circumstances justifying the determination.

(3) The determination of the Chief of Police made pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be valid for a period of 24 hours, and may be renewed by the Chief, or in the Chief’s absence, the Chief’s designee.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 110, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.11. Use of handcuffs, plastic cuffs, or other physical restraints on persons arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly.

(a) The MPD shall adhere to the standard set forth in subsection (b) of this section in using handcuffs, plastic cuffs, or other physical restraints on any person arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly who is being held in custody in the following circumstances:

(1) The arrestee is being held in a police processing center:

(A) To determine whether the arrestee should be released or the method for release;

(B) To determine whether the arrestee should be presented to court; or

(C) Pending presentation to court;

(2) The arrestee is being held in an unsecured processing center, and is not being held in a cell; or

(3) The arrestee is charged solely with one or more misdemeanor offenses, none of which have, as one of their elements, the commission of a violent act toward another person or a threat to commit such an act, or the destruction of property, or a threat to destroy property.

(b) With regard to any person who is being held in custody by the MPD in the circumstances identified in subsection (a) of this section, the MPD shall use handcuffs, plastic cuffs, or other physical restraints only to the extent reasonably necessary, and in a manner reasonably necessary, for the safety of officers and arrestees; provided, that no such person shall be restrained by connecting his or her wrist to his or her ankle, and no such person shall be restrained in any other manner that forces the person to remain in a physically painful position.

(c) Nothing in this section is intended to restrict the otherwise lawful authority of the MPD to use handcuffs, plastic cuffs, or other physical restraints on persons arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly at the time of or immediately following arrest, while arrestees are being transported to a processing center, or while arrestees are being transported to or from court.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 111, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.12. Prompt release of persons arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly.

(a)(1) The MPD shall promptly process any person arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly to determine whether the person is eligible for immediate release pursuant to a lawful release option, and shall promptly release any person so eligible who opts for release.

(2) The MPD shall promptly release any person arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly who, it is subsequently determined, should not be charged with any offense, or as to whom arrest documentation has not been prepared and preserved.

(b)(1) The MPD shall require that an officer holding a supervisory rank document and explain any instance in which a person arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly who opts for release pursuant to any lawful release option or who is not charged with any offense is not released within 4 hours from the time of arrest.

(2) The MPD shall provide to any person not released within a reasonable time of arrest food appropriate to the person’s health.

(c) The Chief of Police shall issue an annual public report that:

(1) Identifies the number of persons in the preceding year who were arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly and opted for release pursuant to any lawful release option or were not charged with any offense and were not released from custody within 4 hours after the time of arrest;

(2) Discusses the reasons for the delay in processing such persons for release; and

(3) Describes any steps taken or to be taken to ensure that all such persons are released within 4 hours from the time of arrest.

(d) The MPD shall ensure that it possesses an automated information processing system that enables it to promptly process for release or presentation to the court all persons arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly, and shall ensure that such system is fully operational (with respect to its hardware, software, and staffing) prior to a First Amendment assembly that has a potential for a substantial number of arrests.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 112, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.13. Notice to persons arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly of their release options.

(a) The MPD shall fully and accurately advise persons arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly of all potential release options when processing them for release from custody or for presentation to court.

(b)(1) The MPD shall provide a written notice identifying all release options to each person arrested in connection with a First Amendment assembly who is charged solely with one or more misdemeanor offenses. The notice shall clearly indicate that the options are alternative methods for obtaining a prompt release, and that the availability of each option is dependent on a determination that the arrestee is eligible to participate in that release option. The notice shall also identify the misdemeanor charges lodged against the arrestee.

(2) The notice required by paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be offered in the Spanish language to those persons who require or desire notice in this manner, and shall be offered in other languages as is reasonable to ensure meaningful access to the notice for persons who are limited English proficient.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 113, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.14. Police-media relations.

(a) Within 90 days of April 13, 2005, the Chief of Police, pursuant to subchapter 1 of Chapter 5 of Title 2, shall issue rules governing police passes for media personnel.

(b) Within 90 days of April 13, 2005, the Chief of Police shall develop and implement a written policy governing interactions between the MPD and media representatives who are in or near an area where a First Amendment assembly is ongoing and who are reporting on the First Amendment assembly. The policy shall be consistent with the requirements of subsection (c) of this section.

(c)(1) The MPD shall allow media representatives reasonable access to all areas where a First Amendment assembly is occurring. At a minimum, the MPD shall allow media representatives no less access than that enjoyed by members of the general public and, consistent with public safety considerations, shall allow media representatives access to promote public knowledge of the assembly.

(2) The MPD personnel located in or near an area where a First Amendment assembly is ongoing shall recognize and honor media credentials issued by or officially recognized by the MPD.

(3) The MPD shall make reasonable accommodations to allow media representatives effectively to use photographic, video, or other equipment relating to their reporting of a First Amendment assembly.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 114, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.15. Training for handling of, and response to, First Amendment assemblies.

The Chief of Police shall ensure that all relevant MPD personnel, including command staff, supervisory personnel, and line officers, are provided regular and periodic training on the handling of, and response to, First Amendment assemblies. The training shall be tailored to the duties and responsibilities assigned to different MPD positions and ranks during a First Amendment assembly. The training shall include instruction on the provisions of this subchapter, and the regulations issued hereunder.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 115, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.16. Use of riot gear and riot tactics at First Amendment assemblies.

(a) Officers in riot gear shall be deployed consistent with the District policy on First Amendment assemblies and only where there is a danger of violence. Following any deployment of officers in riot gear, the commander at the scene shall make a written report to the Chief of Police within 48 hours and that report shall be available to the public on request.

(b)(1) Large scale canisters of chemical irritant shall not be used at First Amendment assemblies absent the approval of a commanding officer at the scene, and the chemical irritant is reasonable and necessary to protect officers or others from physical harm or to arrest actively resisting subjects.

(2) Chemical irritant shall not be used by officers to disperse a First Amendment assembly unless the assembly participants or others are committing acts of public disobedience endangering public safety and security.

(3) A commanding officer who makes the determination specified in paragraph (1) of this subsection shall file with the Chief of Police a written report explaining his or her action within 48 hours after the event.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 116, 52 DCR 2296.)


§ 5–331.17. Construction.

The provisions of this subchapter are intended to protect persons who are exercising First Amendment rights in the District of Columbia, and the standards for police conduct set forth in this subchapter may be relied upon by such persons in any action alleging violations of statutory or common law rights.


(Apr. 13, 2005, D.C. Law 15-352, § 117, 52 DCR 2296.)