Legal Briefing for Those Considering Civil Disobedience in Columbus ON CITY OR STATESIDE PROPERTY Print
Written by Becca Polk   
Tuesday, 09 November 2010 18:21


Prepared by the SOAW Legal Collective

For legal questions before the vigil, please email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated 11/8/2010

Q. What is the difference between “crossing the line,” “federal actions,” “stateside actions” and “civil disobedience in the community ?”

A. There is a long history of civil disobedience in the movement to close the School of the Americas. The risks you face if you engage in civil disobedience depend not only on your actions, but also on the place where your actions occur. SOAW activists sometimes refer to civil disobedience that occurs on the base as “federal actions” since the base is on federal property. “Crossing the line” onto the base of Ft. Benning carries a maximum of 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. There is a separate Frequently Asked Questions document about the risks of crossing the line onto the base entitled “ Legal Briefing For People Considering Civil Disobedience At SOA Protest ” and available at

The purpose of this brief is to share information about the risks you may face if you engage in an act of civil disobedience “in the Columbus community” or “stateside”—essentially anywhere outside the boundaries of the base.

Q. What should I do if I am thinking about engaging in civil disobedience?

A. As part of your discernment, we encourage you to talk to a member of the Legal Collective. The information we share in this brief is very general, but we are happy to talk with you about your specific questions in a one-on-one session either before or during the vigil. We also encourage you to attend one of the group sessions we host during the vigil weekend.

If you are considering arrest, we encourage you to fill out a biographical information sheet so that it is easier for us to track you and communicate with your supporters (we will have these forms available at the convention center).

Q. If I engage in civil disobedience in Columbus (not on Ft. Benning property), what will I get charged with?

A. It is hard to predict what you will be charged with, but common charges stemming at protest actions include Failure to Comply with Police, Disturbing the Peace, Resisting Arrest and Failure to Disperse. Misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, and a minimum of no jail time and no fine. In the history of the SOAW movement, there have not been many acts of civil disobedience on non-federal property in Columbus, and we are not sure how law enforcement will respond if there is a mass action on non-federal property. In the past, SOAW activists have been released on time served (ie, they did not have to spend any more time in jail), and have sometimes been ordered to pay a fine and sometimes not. Fines in the past, when issued, have been much less than the maximum fine of $1,000. Again, we are uncertain how the judge will respond to acts of civil disobedience that occur in Columbus this year.

Q. Where will they take me if I am arrested?

A. You will likely be transported to the Muskogee County Jail located at 700 10th Street in Columbus, GA.

Q. What will happen to me once I get to the jail? What should I say to the police?

A. Once you are arrested and transported to the jail, the next step is to be “booked.” You do not have to give any information other than identifying information (your name, birthday and address). It is your choice whether to cooperate or not cooperate with police interrogations. Generally, we advise that you not talk to the police. Anything you say to the police can be used against you and your friends.

Q. What is bail and how much will my bail be?

A. The purpose of bail is to guarantee your appearance in court. If you are arrested for a misdemeanor, we expect that the amount of your bail will be set according to the sheriff’s bail schedule and you will not have a bail hearing. The bail schedule for misdemeanors is set around $300-500 if you are a Georgia resident, and around $1,000 if you are not a Georgia resident.

If you do not have enough money to pay your bail, you may be able to arrange for your supporters to bond you out. This involves paying a percentage (usually 10-15%, sometimes higher for out-of-staters) of the total bail amount to a commercial bondsman who then acts as your surety (“surety” means that the bondsman assumes responsibility for your debt). Usually, the 10-15% that you pay is non-recoverable and acts as your payment to the bondsman. Bondsman may refuse to bond out an out-of-stater on a misdemeanor charge.

If your supporters want to pay your bail, they should bring the money to the bond clerk at Muskogee County Jail (700 10th Street in Columbus, GA).

The Direct Action Working Group has advised folks that SOAW does not have the funds to post bail for people—all those considering arrest are responsible for their own bail money.

Q. If I plead guilty, how soon will I get out of jail?

A. If you plead guilty, you will likely be able to be released the first day that there is court after your arrest unless you are sentenced to jail. Normally, there is not court on Sunday. This means that if you are arrested on Saturday or Sunday, we anticipate that you will be able to get out by Monday. If you plead guilty, we do not anticipate that you will have to return to Columbus make another appearance.

Q. If I plead not-guilty and post bail, how soon will I get out of jail? Will I have to come back to Columbus? Will my case go to trial?

A. If you post bail prior to arraignment, you will likely be released the first day that there is court after your arrest. Normally, there is not court on Sunday. This means that if you are arrested on Saturday or Sunday, you should be able to get out by Monday.

Generally, if you make bond, that waives your preliminary hearing in Recorder’s Court. Your case then would go to state court, and you would likely be required to come back to Columbus for several hearings before your trial. If you bond out prior to arraignment or plead not guilty, it is likely you will have to come back to Columbus for at least one hearing. You could have to come back to Columbus several times.

We expect that it will be at least 2 months before your arraignment (where you are formally charged by a prosecutor and you enter a plea). If your case proceeds to trial, it will probably be heard in 4-12 months.

Q. If I do not post bail and do not plead guilty, how soon will I get out of jail?

A. If you cannot post bail, you could be kept in custody until your name is called on the trial docket, which could be as long as 10-30 days.

Q. What will happen to me if I am released on bail and do not come back to court for my next hearing date?

A. If you do not show up for one of your hearings, your bond will be forfeited and a warrant will be issued for your arrest. This warrant will be entered on the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database and will “show up” if you are arrested or stopped for a traffic ticket in any state. You would likely be arrested and held until Georgia decides if it wants to extradite you back to Georgia. If you used a commercial bondsman, they can also initiate proceedings to have you hailed back to court in Georgia.

Having an outstanding arrest warrant can also affect your right to travel. You could encounter problems securing visas to visit other countries, and could be arrested leaving or entering the United States.

Q. Will I get the money I posted for bail back at the end of my case?

A.  Yes, provided that you appear as required in court and do not otherwise do something that ends up forfeiting your bail, at the conclusion of the case, and regardless of the outcome, you will receive back the money you have posted as bail minus the sheriff’s administrative fee (about 5% of your total bail).

Q. What are the long term consequences of having an arrest on my record?

A. If you are arrested for and convicted of any criminal offense, even a misdemeanor, you may experience long-term consequences related to that arrest. People with criminal records sometimes have difficulty securing employment or traveling internationally.

Q. If I am not a US citizen, what will happen to me if I am arrested for a misdemeanor?

If you are in the US without permission (ie, you are “undocumented”), any contact with the criminal justice system could have very serious consequences—including removal to your home country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has multiple programs with law enforcement to ensure that they find and deport immigrants who have been arrested by local law enforcement. Muscogee County Jail has signed a 287(g) agreement with ICE so that local law enforcement can act as federal agents in arresting immigrants.  If you are arrested, the sheriff will likely place a “detainer” on you if they consider you a “suspected alien.”  A detainer (aka an “immigration hold”) is technically nothing more than a request from the federal government to delay your release and buys ICE 48 hours (not including weekends or holidays) to investigate, interrogate and, if appropriate, place you in removal proceedings. Often local law enforcement will hold people even longer than 48 hours, even without authority to do so, so that ICE has enough time to interview "suspected aliens."

Since ICE enters the criminal justice system at the booking, rather than conviction, stage, undocumented immigrants who have not committed a single crime can be deported with only pretextual criminal charges.

If you are a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), you can become deportable if you are convicted of certain crimes, including crimes of violence, crimes involving moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, and any drug-related crimes (including a single possession).  A misdemeanor under criminal law may be considered an aggravated felony under immigration law, depending upon the sentence. Therefore, before you make any admission of guilt or plea, you should make sure you discuss the potential immigration consequences with a qualified attorney.

Q. If I am a minor, what will happen to me if I am arrested?

If you are under the age of 17 and arrested on a misdemeanor charge, you will be transported to juvenile lockup, not Muskogee County Jail. The Juvenile Detention Center is located at 7700-A Chattsworth Road , Midland, GA 31820. Generally you have to be bailed out by a parent, relative or adult guardian.

Q. Who should I call if I need legal help during the vigil or if I witness something that should be reported to the legal collective?

A. If your last name (or the last name of the person arrested) begins with A-J, please call Alison McCrary at 770-356-0105; for last names starting with K-Z, please call Nikki Thanos at 504-616-1888.

For legal questions before the vigil, please email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

This legal briefing does not establish an attorney-client relationship and is designed to give you general legal information. It is not intended and does not provide specific legal advice about your case or actions.  By using, reading, or consulting this handbook for any purpose, you agree that the information contained within it does not constitute legal or other professional advice and no attorney-client or other relationship is created between you and the School of the Americas Watch or any attorney with the Legal Collective or their affiliated firms or organizations.  Do not consider this to be a substitute for obtaining individual legal advice.  Though every effort is made, this information is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 16:10