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Civil Rights Litigation Attorneys in Lafayette, Louisiana
Civil rights have always been a potent political and legal subject since the founding of the United States. The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was passed to prevent the federal government from having too much power to trample over the nation’s citizens, much as Great Britain had done in the colonial era.
While the founding fathers prioritized individual liberties and rights for some, they did not prioritize them for enslaved Americans. As the issue of slavery tore the nation apart the Civil War ensued. During the Reconstruction Era, amendments were ratified by the states to protect formerly enslaved people. Despite these amendments, some states continued to find ways to discriminate against marginalized groups like Black Americans. This required legislation to be enacted to prevent continued oppression. This began with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed a hundred years after the end of the Civil War, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin.
Today, civil rights laws are embodied in federal and state statutes and constitutions, and people enjoy broad protections. Still, those rights are often abused, and individuals can face discrimination on the job, in housing, in police actions, and in many other areas.
If you believe your civil rights have been violated in or around Lafayette, Louisiana, or in any neighboring communities, contact the office of J. Clay LeJeune, Attorney at Law, LLC. We will listen to your story, investigate your situation, and advise you of your legal options. Our attorneys will help you exercise your rights to seek relief under federal and state law. Set up a consultation with our team today.
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Laws That Protect Your Civil Rights
Most of us know that the First Amendment to the Constitution gives us the rights to free speech and peaceable assembly, and that the Second Amendment preserves the right to bear arms, but the other amendments are equally important for our protections.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fifth Amendment protects your rights to remain silent and not be a witness against yourself. It also contains prohibitions against “double jeopardy,” or being tried twice for the same crime, and against the government’s depriving you of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The Sixth Amendment guarantees you a “speedy and public trial” by an “impartial jury,” while the Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed after the Civil War to ensure the states didn’t revert to slavery. The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude anywhere in the United States. The 14th Amendment guarantees that anyone born on U.S. soil, or naturalized, is a citizen, and it extends the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states and their citizens. The 15th Amendment forbids states from denying or restricting the people’s right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a response to segregation and discrimination that continued to haunt the nation a hundred years after the Civil War. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Different sections – called Titles – of the act deal with discrimination in public accommodations and in employment. Title I guarantees equal voting rights, and Title IV makes segregation in public schools illegal.
Article I of the Louisiana State Constitution, titled “Declaration of Rights,” mirrors the U.S. Bill of Rights and states that “the rights enumerated in this Article are inalienable by the state and shall be preserved inviolate by the state.”
Section 1983 Actions
Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 allows people to sue the government for violations of their civil rights. To bring a lawsuit under Section 1983, you must show that someone “acting under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State” has deprived you of rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
Section 1983 lawsuits, as they have come to be known, often involve citizens who have been the victims of excessive police force, but that is not the only application. In the Bivens case in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court extended legal action against federal agents as well. These cases have come to be known as “Bivens Cases.”
Common Civil Rights Violations
Protection of rights did not end with the Civil Rights Act, but continued at the federal level, especially regarding employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) extends the right against discrimination in employment to those with a disability. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) bars discriminating against an employee based on pay scale. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) bars discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing. There are many others. Nonetheless, violations of people’s civil rights still occur.
Below are common examples of civil rights violations. If you believe your civil rights have been violated, it is critical you retain an attorney as soon as possible. Schedule a consultation with our offices today.
Law enforcement agents may overstep their bounds by using more force than a situation demands, sometimes even resulting in someone’s death.
In most situations, police must obtain a warrant before conducting a search and/or seizure, according to the U.S. Fourth Amendment. If there is probable cause—for instance, the smell of marijuana emanating from a vehicle stopped for speeding— then a warrantless search is sometimes justified.
Law enforcement doesn’t always get things right. Tales abound of individuals who have spent years behind bars for crimes they never committed. Sometimes this can happen because of false accusations and testimony, or mistaken identification during a lineup.
If police arrest you, they are required to read you your Miranda Rights to remain silent and have an attorney present when questioned. If they don’t, they may have violated due process. Prosecutors must also follow due process in charging you and trying you.
When an individual believes that either the federal government or a state government has violated that individual's guaranteed equal rights, that individual may be able to bring a lawsuit against that governmental body for relief.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, practicing a religion of your choice, and assembling peaceably. However, free speech rights are not unfettered. Child pornography, obscenity, and “fighting words” or “true threats” have been excluded by the Supreme Court. A First Amendment violation would most likely apply if police chose to break up a peaceable assembly or arrested you for a nonviolent protest unless you were breaking another law.
Employment violations are investigated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where complaints of discrimination and harassment must first be lodged before suing.