Civil Rights

Your civil rights are fundamentally protected by the Constitution.

The United States Constitution guarantees every American citizen certain civil rights of personal liberty. Among these fundamental civil rights and liberties are the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and to petition the government, and the rights to bear arms, to procedural due process, and to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and cruel and unusual punishments.

Unfair treatment alone does not necessarily involve a violation of civil rights and liberties. It's discrimination only if you're treated unfairly because you have one of the characteristics protected by the Constitution, such as age, disability, race, religion, or sex.

What civil rights are you guaranteed?

Some of things that make it "great to an American" are in fact some of our most cherished and important civil rights and liberties. They's protected and guaranteed by the US Constitution, most state constitutions as well as various federal laws. They include the right to speak openly and assemble freely, such as participate in public demonstrations or belong to social groups or clubs. You are also guaranteed the right to be free from false arrest or malicious prosecution and to vote.

Every American has the right to due process (meaning you're given advance notice and a chance to defend yourself if you're tried in court or a basic freedom or liberty is threatened), to be free from excessive bails and fines, and cruel and unusual punishment and the right to a speedy and public trial, sometimes by a jury.

You are also guaranteed equal protection of the laws, meaning you're entitled to the same benefits and protections of any state or federal law the same as any other citizen and privacy from unreasonable and unwarranted government intrusion into your home and personal affairs.

How do you protect your civil rights?

Take steps immediately if you think one of your civil liberties has been violated:

Record all the details while they're fresh in your mind. Who said what to whom? Did anyone witness it? Detailed documentation can make or break your case.

Follow any administrative process for complaining. For instance, most police departments have internal review boards to investigate alleged police brutality and other misconduct. Take whatever steps are necessary to complain to the proper authorities within the governmental agency where the problem occurred.

Get a reality check from a national or local organization that has experience with the type of problem you've encountered. Groups like the ACLU may be able to give you practical help and connect you with an attorney or other professional who can help.

Contact local media to publicly air your complaint. While you can't guarantee how the story will be covered, it's a way to get your complaint out in the open and inform others who may have experienced problems similar to yours.

Talk with a lawyer to find out whether your case is one of the few it might be practical to take to court.