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Constitutional & Civil Rights

The Constitution is the bedrock of our Republic. It has created our system of government and fostered our economic and political prosperity. It governs the relationship between the federal government and state governments. It has also secured several individual rights. A few of the more prominent rights are listed below.

Free Speech | The core principle of free speech is to protect the free flow of ideas. “Speech” in constitutional law is interpreted broadly to mean most types of expressive conduct. To be protected, then, speech need not be verbal or written.

Eminent Domain | The Constitution places limits on when a government may take private property (usually land or real estate). Simply put: a government may take private property if it is for a “public purpose” and provides “reasonable compensation.” When property is taken for a “public purpose” and when a government offers “reasonable compensation” for that property is generally at issue.

Free Exercise of Religion | “Religious beliefs” which are “sincerely held” are generally protected by our Constitution. In other words, Free Exercise prohibits the government from punishing, denying benefits to, or imposing burdens on someone on the basis of the person’s religious beliefs.

Unreasonable Searches and Seizures | The prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures is located in the Fourth Amendment. It is the most litigated Amendment in the federal courts of the United States. It generally prevents a government or its employees from violating ones privacy or personal freedom without cause.

Right to Keep and Bear Arms | Though a relative newcomer to the Constitutional Law scene, the “right to keep and to bear arms,” contained in the Second Amendment, guarantees an individual’s right to use firearms for his or her own self-preservation. The precise parameters of this right will surely be defined in the near future.

If you have a question concerning your constitutional rights, please contact us today.

Frequently asked Constitutional/Civil Rights questions:

How are constitutional rights available in a private cause of action? The answer lies in 42 U.S. Code section 1983, which states that —

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State…subjects..any citizen of the U.S. or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privilege, 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 property proceeding for redress.

Although this section is seemingly straightforward, there are many procedural and substantive nuances in bringing a 1983 action. For example, a State is not a “person” under this section, but a state officer/agent can be sued in his/her official capacity for prospective/injuctive relief.

How much does it cost to file a lawsuit grounded in federal civil rights law? These cases are often handled on a contingency fee basis. However, section 1983 — referenced above — has in place an attorney fees provision in which the prevailing party is awarded reasonable attorney fees. The reason for this is that sometimes the economic recovery in a civil rights action is small; the attorney fees provision is in place so that litigants are not dissuaded from pursuing cases for purely economic reasons.

When does excessive force occur? The prohibition against excessive force flows from the 4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and any accompanying state constitutional provisions). Specifically, courts have interpreted the right to be free from unreasonable searched and seizures to include a ban on excessive force. Excessive force is when the government (generally the police) use more force than is reasonably necessary to accomplish its objectives.

Are there other sanctions/penalties that occur because of a 4th amendment violation? Yes. In addition to civil damages, under well-established criminal procedure law, evidence obtained by the government in violation of the 4th amendment (and other procedural rules) cannot be introduced into evidence. This is known as the exclusionary rule.