Our nation was founded on the belief that every individual is entitled to certain inalienable rights. These “civil” liberties are set forth in the Bill of Rights and in a variety of federal civil rights statutes. The law protects citizens against the loss or denial of these rights and provides penalties for those who would deny another’s civil liberties. Further, federal law offers additional protection against injury or death occurring as the result of a civil rights violation.
If you have been injured or your loved one was injured or died because another person or entity denied your civil rights, you are entitled to compensation under federal law. However, the laws are complex and your rights may vary depending on a variety of situational factors. Additionally, injuries arising from a civil rights violation can be tricky to prove. With the right attorney, however, you can prove your case and receive compensation for your injuries and losses.
The expert attorneys at Calbom & Schwab, have deep experience defending the civil rights of our clients and ensuring they receive just compensation for their suffering and loss. We understand the importance of having a legal team on your side that can get tough with those who caused you harm while offering you compassionate understanding and emotional support. We will help you understand the law, determine if your case does, in fact, involve a civil rights violation, prove your case in court, and secure the just compensation to which you are entitled.
How do I know if my civil rights were violated?
U.S. federal civil rights statutes are set forth in Title 18 and Title 42 of the U.S. Code. You may read about these statutes in depth directly on the FBI website; however, the following list summarizes several situations and events that illustrate common civil rights violations.
It is illegal to willfully cause bodily injury or even attempt to do so, because of a person’s actual—or perceived—race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Crimes of this type are often referred to as “hate crimes.”
Some studies have suggested that assaults motivated by hatred are more violent, and more likely to result in serious injury to the victim, than other types of assaults. Studies have also shown that most hate crimes are carried out by persons who do not know their victim. Rather, the victims are selected based on how they are perceived rather than something they said or did. We have seen many examples in the past several years in which innocent individuals were targeted and harmed or killed simply because of their:
- Sexual orientation
These crimes are particularly heinous because the victims not only do not overtly do anything to provoke the crime, but they also cannot change the characteristics about themselves that incited the aggressor(s) to attack.
The good news is that there are a variety of federal civil rights statutes that make it illegal to harm someone because of their race, religion, or any other protected attribute. Because of the particularly odious nature of hate crimes, these statutes were reinforced in October 2009 with the passage of the Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which provides explicit protection against hate-motivated acts of violence.
Color of Law Crimes
It is illegal for a law enforcement official (someone operating under the “color” or uniform of law) to deprive you of any right protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. In other words, it is illegal for a police officer or other enforcement professional to stop you from exercising your rights. In addition, it is illegal to subject you to harsher punishment, pains, or penalties than those prescribed for others simply because of your color or race.
In addition to law enforcement officials, individuals operating under color of law may include mayors, councilpersons, judges, nursing home proprietors, security guards, and other persons who are bound by laws, statutes ordinances, or customs.
This blanket of protection for your civil rights also applies if you are incarcerated. Even in prison or jail, you still have the right to free speech, worship, and other protected rights, and you cannot legally be harmed or intimidated by officials based simply on your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other federally protected attributes.
Crimes of excessive force by law enforcement, false arrest, and malicious prosecution fall under this category as well and are among the most common civil rights violations.
- Excessive Force. Police officers are permitted to use force in the performance of their duties and protection of the public good, including deadly force if the situation warrants. However, they are not permitted to use more force than is justified by the circumstances. One example of this is the well-known case of Rodney King vs. LAPD, in which police officers pulled over an unarmed man, used a Taser on him, and beat him.
- False Arrest. For these purposes, an arrest may be regarded as any situation in which you are deprived of your freedom to leave. A police officer may not take you into police custody without a valid reason. For example, if you are taken into custody because the police thought you looked suspicious or didn’t like where you were standing, despite the fact that you were not engaged in any criminal act, you may have a case for false arrest.
- Malicious Prosecution. In this type of case, an officer arrests an individual without a valid reason and initiates a criminal complaint against him or her. An example might arise if an innocent civilian is struck by a police officer and puts up his arms to block the blow, inadvertently striking the officer in the process. If the officer then arrests the victim and charges him with aggravated assault (the crime of striking a police officer) when the individual’s intent was defensive, that would be malicious prosecution.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
It is illegal to subject individuals to cruel and unusual punishment. This applies to those in custody in jail or prisons, and it covers not only protection against beating, torture, and the like, but also the right to adequate medical care and humane conditions.
- Inhumane Conditions of Confinement. No universal definition exists, but conditions that are clearly inhumane or that violate basic human dignity may be deemed “cruel and unusual.” For example, in 1995, a federal court in Massachusetts found that inmates’ rights were violated when they were held in a 150-year-old prison that lacked toilets and was fraught with vermin and fire hazards.
- Abusive Treatment. If an inmate is disciplined or mistreated in a way that causes injury, violation of “cruel and unusual” is clear; however, even if the treatment does not cause injury, it may still meet the standard for cruel and unusual. For example, in Hope v. Pelzer (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment had been contravened when prison officials disciplined an inmate for disruptive behavior by handcuffing him to a hitching post, once for two hours and once for seven hours, depriving him of his shirt, exposing him to the sun, denying his requests for hydration, and refusing to allow him to use the bathroom.
- Denial of Medical Care in Prison. When individuals are incarcerated in the criminal justice system, they become incapable of caring for themselves as they would if their freedom were not restricted. They are not, for example, in a position to seek medical treatment for illness; therefore the imprisoning authority (city, county, state, or federal government) is required by law to provide adequate medical care to inmates. If you get an infection, break a bone, suffer an allergic reaction, develop cancer, or even if you are in withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, you are entitled to adequate medical care in prison. If you or a loved one are injured or die in custody due to the denial of medical care, that is a violation of civil rights and is illegal.
When Your Rights Have Been Violated, You Need a Skilled Civil Rights Attorney
These are a few examples of civil rights protections afforded by U.S. law. There are many others. The laws are complex, and denial of rights can be difficult to prove and still more difficult to link to injury or death. In addition, in color-of-law cases, there are prescribed waiting periods to which you must adhere. Specifically, you must formally notify the government officer or agency of your injury or the harm they caused you, then you must wait at least sixty days for them to respond to or settle your claim. Only after doing so may you file a lawsuit against the offending individual or agency.
The skilled attorneys at Calbom & Schwab have handled and won many such cases, securing monetary settlements for our clients. Let us help you evaluate whether your experience is covered by a federal civil rights statute and assess any civil rights violations you may have experienced. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an event in which you believe your civil liberties were denied, call Calbom & Schwab. Your first consultation is free.