Civil Rights Law




What is Civil Rights Law?

Civil rights law deals with the protections and liberties enjoyed by the American people. These rights are designed to ensure that people are treated equally and without respect to their ethnicity, gender, or other such attributes. They also guard against overly intrusive conduct by the government. Government actors are not permitted to make decisions arbitrarily, or to deprive individuals of their lives or property without affording them due process of law. While civil rights violations give rise to a host of civil and criminal penalties for the offender, attorneys practicing in this area of the law are generally engaged in seeking financial compensation for victims.

Primary sources of civil rights law include the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (the “Bill of Rights”), as well as a number of important pieces of federal legislation passed in recent decades. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a notable example of federal law aimed at preventing discrimination. Other examples include the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Civil rights law is also based on published court decisions that interpret the meaning of legislation and help determine how the law is applied in a given situation. Finally, states have enacted their own civil rights legislation to supplement existing federal protections.

Excessive Force and Other Police Misconduct

One of the most common types of private lawsuits alleging civil rights violations results from improper conduct by law enforcement. Victims can bring claims based on excessive force or brutality, illegal searches and seizures, false arrests, malicious prosecutions, unjustified police shootings, and other abuses of power. Lawsuits against the police can be directed toward the individual officers involved in the incident, or against the entire department when the conduct is more systemic. These civil rights cases can become incredibly emotional, particularly in cases brought by surviving family members of an individual killed by the police.

As the field of DNA testing has developed, there are an increasing number of convicted individuals whose cases are being reversed based on newly discovered evidence. Law firms across the country are filing wrongful conviction lawsuits on behalf of these individuals. As should be expected, the settlements and jury awards in wrongful conviction cases are large, often reaching the seven-figure mark and beyond. After all, victims who go to prison for a crime they did not commit stand to lose their families, friends, reputations, and careers, not to mention years or even decades of freedom. Few would argue with the need for substantial compensation in such cases.

Prison Abuse Cases

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. With more than two million Americans now behind bars, the Eighth Amendment is just as relevant today as it was when it was ratified in the year 1791. The rapid growth of the U.S. prison population has led to overcrowding, and in turn, deplorable and sometimes dangerous conditions for inmates. Inmates who have suffered injury or have otherwise been harmed as a result of prison conditions may have a right to financial or injunctive relief. Short deadlines exist for initiating a prison abuse case, however, so it is important to take action quickly.

Free Speech, Women’s Rights, and More

Civil rights cases are not limited to claims against police officers and prison officials. Many constitutional rights can form the basis of a lawsuit, including the guarantees regarding speech, religion, association, due process, and equal protection under the law. Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, and there is no reason to tolerate improper conduct related to an employee’s gender or pregnancy. A lawsuit will also be appropriate in instances where an employer retaliates against an employee for asserting any recognized civil right or informing authorities of civil rights violations at work.

Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code imposes liability on any person who, under “color of state law,” deprives another individual of his or her federal civil rights. Known as 1983 claims, lawsuits brought under this statute allow victims to sue state and municipal government officials who violate federal civil rights laws. While 1983 claims are a common method for holding local officials accountable, the doctrine of sovereign immunity may apply in certain situations. If so, an official may be completely or partially insulated from liability. Victims should therefore discuss the specifics of a 1983 claim with an attorney before moving forward.

Hiring a Civil Rights Attorney

If you feel your civil rights may have been infringed, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Furthermore, by initiating a legal action, you may help to bring about positive changes that prevent similar harm to others in your position. To find out more, contact an attorney now.

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Know Your Rights!

  • Are 3D Printed Plastic Guns Legal?

    The arrival of 3D printing technology has led to some amazing new possibilities for things like replicating broken parts, creating amazing works of 3D art, and manufacturing entire items from patters found online. But, as is usually the case with any new technology, someone finds a way to use it for something sinister. Several creators invented 3D printed plastic guns and made plans available online. But, are these 3D printed plastic guns legal?

  • Are Same-Sex Couples Entitled to Share Employment Benefits?

    Traditionally, one benefit of marriage was being able to share in a spouse's employment benefits, like health, vision, and dental insurance. Unfortunately, many same-sex couples have struggled for years to receive the same level of benefits and even the right to be married. With more and more jurisdictions recognizing same-sex marriages, are employers now required to provide same-sex couples with the same level of benefits as heterosexual couples?

  • Do Inmates Have Rights? If So, What Are They?

    Obviously, going to jail or prison involves having one's rights curtailed. But, that does not mean inmates in the United States are without basic human rights. Even the most hardened criminal has basic rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

  • Do Native American Indians Have Special Rights?

    Many have wondered as they drive along the road and see signs for so-called Indian Casinos how this could be legal in a state that otherwise outlaws such forms of gambling? Others may have heard of Native Americans having their own tribal laws and police and wondered if these are separate and apart from the laws of non-Indians in the area. Do Native Americans have special rights that other American citizens do not?

  • How do I say “No” to the Police?

    You have been stopped, either in a car, in a public place, or walking down the street, and an officer asks you to do something you do not think you should have to do. This would probably be a request to search your person or vehicle. So, when an officer asks you to empty your pockets, allow a search of your car, or for some other consent to search, how do you say “no” without bringing on more suspicion and a possible arrest?

  • How Much Can You Legally Get Away With Saying to a Cop?

    What can you legally say to a cop and get away with it? Maybe an officer pulled you over on the wrong day, maybe you distrust cops, or maybe you just like living on the edge. Whatever your reasoning, you might be surprised to find out that getting a little mouthy is not technically an automatic one way trip to jail.

  • What is Affirmative Action and Why Was it Created?

    Most people have seen the effects of affirmative action in one place or another. For example, most job and school applications now ask a person's racial and ethnic background, gender, and veteran status. But what is affirmative action really, and why was it created?

  • What is the Difference Between a Human Right and a Civil Right?

    Have you ever wondered what the difference was between a human right and a civil right? Is there a difference between the two terms?

  • Where Can I Carry a Gun on a College Campus?

    Over the last decade, stories of shootings on college campuses have dotted the headlines. This has led many to call for legalizing the carrying of guns on campuses. Of course, this has also created a serious backlash against guns on campuses, leading many to ask if this is the answer or just a way to contribute to the problem. So where is it legal to carry a gun on a college campus?

  • Where is Same-Sex Marriage Legal in the United States?

    For years, gay and lesbian couples have fought for the right to have their relationships legally recognized like heterosexual couples. Unfortunately, as with most civil rights movements, the march towards equal rights for those of different sexual orientations has been a long and difficult one. Nevertheless, several states have recently taken to recognizing same-sex marriages over the last few years, opening the door to a new era of equality for these individuals.

  • Who or What Can Legally be Considered a Person

    Since the dawn of civilization, there has been an ongoing philosophical and political debate about who or what can legally be considered a person. Traditionally, this took on the debate of whether certain human minority groups should be afforded the same rights and obligations as those in power. But, the debate has shifted in recent years to one involving non-humans. So, what makes a “person,” legally speaking.

Articles About Civil Rights

  • Are There Any Special Laws Regarding Homeless People
    The gap between the richest and poorest people in the United States is bigger than in any other country in the world. As a result, homelessness has become a serious and widespread problem in America. But, how has society come to deal with this issue? Are there any special laws regarding homeless people?
  • When is an Abortion Legal?
    The decision to end a pregnancy is rarely an easy one. Social issues, health concerns, or a wide array of other factors may be the reason for terminating the pregnancy, but the consequences can be devastating. Making matters worse, legal considerations have so deeply muddied the waters on a woman's right to choose that it is not always clear when one can have an abortion.
  • Are Non-Compete Agreements Really Enforceable? What You Need to Know
    The courts look at three criteria.
  • Challenging DUI Test Results
    In addition to the testimony of the arresting officer’s observations, the prosecution may introduce evidence during a DUI trial regarding test results that implicate the defendant. However, a number of test results may be challenged during the course of the defense.
  • Removing a Shareholder from a Business
    Here is the flow of issues when a shareholder is removed from a business: Termination of employment → Buy-back of shares → Non-competition → Claims for unfair oppression. Let’s start at the beginning, which is the end of employment.
  • After a Riot, Who Pays for the Damage?
    Riots have erupted all over the United States in recent years, often in the wake of racial tensions created by police activities. Often beginning as peaceful protests, these demonstrations sometimes degenerate into violent riots where people and property suffer harm, leaving innocent people to pick up the pieces. This has led many to ask who should pay for the damage after a riot?
  • Are There Any Protections for Transgender Employees?
    For decades, the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act has failed to pass, which would sweeping protections to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the workforce. Without this law, transgender employees do have some protections, but not as many as people who have been traditionally protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • What Does “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Mean in Criminal Proceedings?
    The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine prevents the prosecution from admitting certain evidence into a criminal case after it has been tainted by a primary illegality. This doctrine is meant to remove illegally-acquired evidence from negatively impacting a criminal defendant.
  • How Does Workers’ Compensation Work?
    Injured employees across the country are able to receive medical treatment and have a portion of their wages replaced after being injured in a work-related accident or becoming ill on the job through the workers’ compensation program. Employers and employees both have a number of responsibilities under the program.
  • Federal Labor Laws
    Employees in the United States are protected by a number of key regulations. In addition to any laws on the state level, employees are also protected by more than 180 federal laws administered by the Department of Labor alone. Here are some of the more common forms of protection.
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