The term “civil rights” is used to categorize a variety of freedoms or privileges that we have as citizens of the United States, that have been enumerated in our United States Constitution, or even the Pennsylvania Constitution. Specifically, a civil right is something provided to citizens through our Bill of Rights to protect them from government intrusion. Sometimes, these rights are explained more fully through statutes enacted by Congress, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but most at least have their basis in the Constitution.
Usually, the most common civil right that people discuss is “discrimination,” or the right to be free from discrimination based on their race, religion, sex, or national origin. However civil rights can cover a mixture of privileges such as: freedom of speech or religion, right to bear arms, or freedom from excessive force from the police. The key is that it is a right that has been listed in the Constitution or statute.
Your civil rights are protected from government intrusion under Federal Law 42 U.S.C §1983, which states:
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…”
Examples of Civil Rights cases with which we can help:
Police brutality cases often fall under the Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. Many of these incidents result from roadside traffic stops or through the execution of a warrant. Even if an officer has probable cause to arrest you, he or she must use reasonable force to do so.
Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Although the case precedent on the First Amendment is continually evolving, the courts have interpreted this language to essentially mean that the government must balance the two rights. The government’s laws and officials must refrain from endorsing a religion, while still allowing citizen’s to freely exercise their beliefs. Often these two adverse principles come into direct conflict with each other.
False Arrest or Unlawful Detention
Similar to police brutality, a citizen’s right to be free from unlawful search and seizure and false arrest and imprisonment is protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The main focus of these cases rests on the need for probable cause or reasonable suspicion that an officer must have to detain, arrest, or search a suspect.
Freedom of Speech
In addition to regulating the government’s intrusion of religion, the First Amendment also protects citizens’ right to free speech. The Supreme Court has determined that there can be some limitations to speech, but it usually relates to time and place restrictions, rather than a restriction based on content of the speech.
Right to Bear Arms
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution has been recently coming under attack with more regulations on gun ownership being put into place. The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In Pennsylvania, we have additional protection, as our Pennsylvania Constitution says, “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The most common civil right challenged in the courts under this amendment is the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. These are most often claims for excessive force or unlawful treatment by correctional officers, or for failure to release after a sentence has expired.
If you believe your civil rights have been violated, turn to the experienced civil rights lawyers of Trinity Law. With offices in York, Lancaster and Mechanicsburg, our Pennsylvania lawyers will aggressively protect your rights. To schedule your initial consultation, call 717-843-8046, toll free at 866-464-5297 or simply contact us online. We accept major credit cards.