Legal Observers

One of the best ways you can help the ACLU of Wisconsin defend the First Amendment in Wisconsin is by becoming a trained volunteer legal observer.

Legal observers act as legal witnesses to political demonstrations and document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to constitutionally protected free speech are challenged in court.

As legal observers, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but aren’t expected to attend every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to participate. To find out when the next legal observer training is scheduled, contact liberty@aclu-wi.org.

Legal Observer Basics

What is a legal observer?

Q.What is a legal observer?
A.

ACLU Legal Observers are trained volunteers who act as witnesses to police activities during demonstrations, marches and other public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of protesters’ rights. Observers must be committed to defending free speech in the most objective way possible. This commitment ensures that their documentation of public protests can be effectively used as evidence if police misconduct infringes on demonstrators’ Constitutional rights and must be challenged in court. The presence of legal observers at a demonstration may also deter illegal or inappropriate police actions against protesters. The purpose of observers is to monitor, record, and report any unlawful or improper behavior by the police. Legal observers do not actively engage in demonstrations, protests, and other events that they attend, and do not actively engage with law enforcement while observing. This independence from the protests themselves makes observers more credible witnesses and may also protect them from arrests or uses of force by the police against protesters

Who can be a legal observer?

Q.Who can be a legal observer?
A.
  • You need not be an attorney to be a legal observer.
  • You need to be above 18 years of age and have completed an ACLU Legal Observer Training.
  • You must be willing to be outside for several hours at a time, pay careful attention to events, and document occurrences in detail.
  • You must be willing to testify as a witness, should the activities you observe lead to legal proceedings. 
  • If you have any outstanding traffic tickets, warrants, immigration issues, etc., you should not serve as a legal observer due to the possibility of police contact. 

How can I request legal observers for my demonstration?

Q.How can I request legal observers for my demonstration?
A.

Please reach out to liberty@aclu-wi.org and give us as much lead time as you can.  Observers are volunteers and we need time to contact them to deploy a team.  We will not be able to provide observers for all demonstrations.