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Court Rules in Favor of D.C. Police in Protest Case

(CN) - Police do not have to order a crowd to disperse before making arrests, the D.C. Circuit ruled. The ruling reverses a district court decision in favor of a group of protestors who took to the streets in Washington the night of President Bush's second inauguration in 2005. The district court had said police were required to individually identify criminal violations before making arrests, but the D.C. appeals court reversed and remanded.

The three-judge panel said the arrests were warranted, and adding that a dispersal order is not a "constitutionally prerequisite before every group arrest."

In order to arrest a group, "police witnesses must only be able to form a reasonable belief that the entire crowd is acting as a unit and therefore all members of the crowd violated the law," Judge Laurence Silberman wrote.

"If police have probable cause to believe that the group they are arresting is committing or has committed a crime, no more is necessary," he wrote.

The appeals court found that there were still issues surrounding the arrests. While D.C. police say the crowd was vandalizing property and cheered when others broke store windows and set trash on fire, plaintiffs claimed they were not aware of the alleged vandalism.

On Jan. 20, 2005, up to 300 protesters gathered at a church with plans to crash an inaugural ball at the Washington Hilton. Those plans were disrupted and an estimated 70 people were arrested.

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