Civil rights encompass the basic rights guaranteed under the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions and their expansion by federal and state statutes and regulations, and judicial interpretation of the state and federal constitutions in the case law. Civil rights include freedom from government intrusion in your life and discrimination by a government official or agency, but do not include protection from the same kind of conduct by private persons or companies. Private conduct is covered in other areas of practice.

What do civil rights attorneys do?

As civil rights lawyers, we work to protect our clients through civil lawsuits in state and federal court to challenge the violation of your rights by the government. A major part of our practice involves police misconduct, including,

  • The use of excessive or deadly force during an arrest, 
  • False arrest and false imprisonment, 
  • Unlawful or malicious prosecution and 
  • The mistreatment of persons held in custody in county jails and state and federal prison.   

Our legal team is vigilant in protecting all your civil rights, including your right to

  • Petition the government
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Procedural due process
  • Freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, or other protected classes
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What are civil rights laws?

Many civil rights laws have been enacted on the federal level, beginning with the U.S. Constitution. North Carolina’s Constitution has protections similar to federal laws. Well-known examples of federal civil rights laws include:

  • Bill of Rights: The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. They guarantee important civil rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to a speedy trial for criminal charges. 
  • 13th Amendment: This Constitutional Amendment, passed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1865, abolished slavery in the U.S. 
  • 14th Amendment: This Constitutional Amendment guarantees equal protection of all people under the law and the right due process before losing life, liberty or property.  
  • 42 U.S.C. § 1981. This federal law, passed in 1866, prohibits race discrimination in the formation of contracts and provides protections distinct from Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This federal law, passed as part of the Civil Rights Acts of 1871, or the Ku Klux Klan Act, prohibit state and local officials from violating the federally protected rights of any person.  It is commonly used in police misconduct cases to allege the violation of the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure by state or local police.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: This federal law prohibits discrimination and segregation based on color, race, sex, religion, or national origin in many aspects of life – voting, public accommodations (restaurants/stores/hotels), publicly owned facilities, and public schools. The best known provision is Title VII, which applies to employment discrimination and is discussed in the Employment practice section.  
  • Americans with Disabilities Act: This federal law was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in transportation, telecommunications, public accommodations, private commercial facilities, employment, and state and local government.  
  • North Carolina Laws Protect your Civil Rights: Examples of North Carolina laws include:
  • The Declaration of Rights: Article I of the state constitution provides even more protections than the federal Bill of Rights.
  • The North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act: This law prohibits discrimination in discharging persons from employment and is discussed in more detail in the Employment Law section.
  • Persons with Disabilities Protection Act: Similar to the ADA, the statute prohibits disability discrimination but only provide injunctive relied – a court order to stop a practice or allow someone to do something, but does not include compensatory damages.

When do you need a civil rights lawyer?

You may need a civil rights attorney if your civil liberties have been violated. This may be the case if you have:

  • Been subjected to excessive force in an arrest, or knw someone subjected to deadly force 
  • Been arrested or imprisoned unlawfully or prosecuted without probable cause
  • Been abused by a public official
  • Been discriminated against by the government on the basis of race, gender, religion, or national origin
  • Been a victim of excessive force or have not been protected from violence by others in pre-trial custody, or have been subjected to harsh or “cruel and unusual” punishment in prison
  • Been a victim of a hate crime
  • Suffered interference with your access to healthcare

How do you hold responsible parties accountable for violating your civil rights?

Depending on the circumstances, you may need to file a claim with a state or federal government agency for a violation of your civil rights, or you may need to file directly in court.

Where do you sue for civil rights violations – state or federal court?

A lawsuit based on civil rights violations may be filed in either state or federal court, depending on the circumstances. If your civil rights under federal law were violated, but the state law gives you more protection, you may choose to file in state rather than federal court. Your attorney can determine and explain the best court in which to file your case. 

Why choose us when you need a civil rights lawyer?

At Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, we are proud of our zealous approach to advocacy and litigation. We vigorously pursue justice for every client we represent. Our firm is recognized for its history of success in high-profile civil rights cases in both state and federal court.

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