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Offenses Against the American Flag

October 23, 2018

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

We are living in a time of extreme political tension, where protests and displays of free speech are commonplace. Flags have been used for centuries, as a means for making a political or ideological point. However, the America flag is “protected” under various Pennsylvania statutes, and certain misdemeanors may be charged against offenders who allegedly violate these statutes. Yet, in most cases these offenses can be dismissed by an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Flags that are “desecrated” or “insulted” for purposes of civil rights and free speech are not grounds for criminal penalties. While there are strict laws governing the American flag and how it should be displayed and handled, even these laws do not supersede your rights to civil disobedience or protesting.

Desecration of and Insults to the American Flag

Under Pennsylvania Criminal Statute 18 P.S.A. § 2012, desecration of the flag is considered a third degree misdemeanor when it is done in the following manner:

  • Exhibiting a marked flag or a flag with writing or design on it for the purpose of any advertisement;
  • Exposing a flag that is marked or defiled to public view;
  • Manufacturing, selling, exposing for sale, giving away, or having in possession any article that uses the flag for advertising, sale, or trade;
  • Mutilating, defacing, defiling, or trampling upon a flag either publicly or privately, or “casting contempt” upon the flag in any way.

Under Pennsylvania Statute 18 P.S.A. § 2013, Insults to National or Commonwealth Flags, it is a second degree misdemeanor to maliciously take down, defile, injure, or remove a flag in a manner that insults, damages, or destroys said American or Commonwealth flag. This includes flags displayed anywhere, whether they are owned by another party or owned by the offender.

Exceptions to Desecration and Insults

Among the exceptions to this rule is when desecration occurs relating to a patriotic or political demonstration. An Allegheny County man was arrested in 2014 for displaying a spray painted flag upside down from his porch, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The man was able to have the charges dropped, and also sued the township for $55,000, due to suppression of his civil rights. The man, who is part Native American, had spray painted “AIM” (an acronym for American Indian Movement) on the flag in protest of the Keystone Pipeline, which was planned to cut through Wounded Knee battleground in South Dakota.

Call a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Today for Immediate Representation

While you may believe that the charges against you are laughable due to your knowledge of your right to protest peacefully, make no mistake—you could be heavily fined and jailed. Offenses of flag desecration and/or insults are not to be taken lightly, and you need the assistance of an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer to ensure that these charges are beaten, and that your good name is not tarnished with a criminal record. We urge you to reach out to the lawyers of van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim today for legal help.



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