How to Protect Your Civil Rights
Nowadays, lots of people claim their civil rights have been violated. From the right to a fair trial to the right to receive a free and appropriate public education, there are many protections that fall within the scope of civil rights guaranteed to all American citizens. Civil rights laws attempt to guarantee full and equal citizenship regardless of a specific group characteristics like race or gender.
What does it mean to have your civil rights violated? More importantly, how do you protect your civil rights when you believe a breach has occurred? The New Mexico Civil Rights Act allows residents to seek legal action against government entities in state court if they believe their civil rights have been violated. The act also permits the elimination of qualified immunity – the shielding of government workers from personal liability under federal law – as a legal defense in such cases.
What is a civil right?
Before you can determine if your civil rights have been violated, it is helpful to understand what falls under the scope of civil rights in New Mexico. A civil right is a guarantee of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law. These protections apply to everyone regardless of their gender, race, religion, or other personal characteristics.
Some examples of civil rights include:
- The right to vote.
- The right to a fair trial before a jury of your peers.
- The right to government services.
- The right to a public education.
- The right to use public facilities.
Civil rights are not the same as civil liberties. The difference is civil liberties are freedoms secured by placing certain restraints on the government. For example, the right to free speech without fear of prosecution by the government is an example of a civil liberty.
How to know if your civil rights are violated
Civil rights legislation defines a protected class of people who most often are victims of civil rights violations. Protected classes in the U.S. include color, national origin, race, religion, and sex. Protected classes can expand when specific legislation is enacted to include new categories. Some examples of expanding protected classes through legislation include people with disabilities, pregnant women, and LGBTQ+ people.
How do you know if your civil rights are violated? Let’s look at a few common examples to create a clearer picture.
Scenario #1: A police officer pulls over a motorist for a broken taillight. During the stop, the police officer demands to search the person’s vehicle without any justification for the request and arrests the individual when they refuse to comply. This is a violation of the right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Scenario #2: A pregnant woman who qualifies for welfare benefits, including healthcare coverage with prenatal care, has her benefits withheld in violation of federal laws.
Scenario #3: A Black family applies to lease an apartment. The landlord denies the application, stating he prefers to rent to Caucasian tenants only. This is a civil rights violation under the state and federal fair housing and anti-discrimination laws.
These are just a few examples of civil rights violations. Consulting with an attorney knowledgeable in civil rights law in New Mexico can determine whether your rights have been violated.
Suing for civil rights violations
Individuals who believe their civil rights have been violated have recourse under state and federal laws. Thanks to the passage of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, residents of New Mexico now can sue for damages for a violation of state constitutional rights. Under the new provisions, individuals can sue for infringement of freedom of speech, religion, or the right to vote, plus seek restitution if they were unduly or cruelly punished or unlawfully held against their will by governmental agencies.
New Mexico is one of only two states to enact such a law. The other state is Colorado. Civil rights violation claims must be filed in one of two ways. Plaintiffs can file with the relevant government agency or sue in civil court. A civil rights attorney can help determine whether it is best to file in state or federal court. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act sets a cap of $2 million in damages for any governmental entity to pay.
What do if your civil rights are violated
Consulting a civil rights attorney is the most crucial step you can take if you believe your civil rights have been violated. An experienced civil rights lawyer can walk you through the main phases of a civil rights violation lawsuit to ensure your rights are protected every step of the way. They know which laws apply, whether you must file a claim with the government first, and whether you should file your lawsuit in state or federal court. The knowledgeable civil rights team at Cameron and Russell can evaluate all aspects of your case and present all available options. Contact our offices to schedule your case evaluation.