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How the ACLU of Utah Accepts Cases
The ACLU is not a government agency or a general
legal services organization. We do not dispense general legal advice
or provide emergency services.
The ACLU generally files high-impact cases that affect the civil rights
or civil liberties of large numbers of people. We provide direct representation
to only a small number of clients each year in cases with potential
to set precedent for civil liberties issues.
The basic questions we ask are:
--Is this a significant civil rights or civil liberties issue?
--What effect will this case have on people in addition to the complainant?
--Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?
WHAT ARE CIVIL LIBERTIES?
Basic freedoms are guaranteed to all individuals in this country. Civil
liberty violations generally involve abuse of governmental power, and
thus involve someone who represents the government, or a government
policy or law.
Here are some examples of issues we might handle:
Freedom of expression
--A police officer is disciplined for speaking out against police brutality.
--A public school student is suspended for wearing an anti-war T-shirt.
--A group is denied a permit to protest in a public forum.
Freedom of religion
This involves both the rights of individuals to hold and practice religious
beliefs and the separation of church and state.
--Government officials do not allow the distribution of religious literature.
--A town does not hire someone based upon his or her religion.
--A city government distributes religious literature.
--A school mandates the prayer of one religion and excludes others.
Equal protection of the laws and discrimination
--A public school provides athletic opportunities for male but not female
--A sheriff’s department refuses to hire women deputies.
--A person of color is not allowed to ride TRAX.
--A public school suspends a student and has no written policy or appeals
--A community group is denied a protest permit by a city and there is no process for appeal.
--Upon arrest, an indigent person is denied access to an attorney.
Safe prisons and jails
--A county jail is overcrowded or serves an inadequate amount of food.
--A prison denies medical treatment to a seriously ill inmate.
WHAT CASES AFFECT OTHERS?
Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. First, we
sometimes challenge a policy or practice which directly impacts many
people. Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a
larger impact on others when it establishes or expands legal protections.
For example, a lawsuit challenging drug testing of one public employee,
if successful, could set a precedent for thousands of workers.
WHY WE PREFER CASES WITHOUT SERIOUS FACTUAL
We tend to take cases which do not involve complicated disputes of fact,
and prefer cases where the issue is a question of law. An example of
a factual dispute is a case where someone is removed from public transportation
but there is a dispute among the witnesses as to whether it was for
behavior or because of national origin discrimination.
We often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes because:
(1) our resources are limited and it can be expensive to prove a case
involving substantial factual disputes; (2) if a court resolves the
facts against the client it may never reach the civil liberties legal
issue; and (3) if the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case,
the case is less likely to have broad impact.
TYPES OF CASES THE ACLU GENERALLY DOES
Discrimination in the workplace is wrong, and may be a constitutional
issue; however, we still refer you to the Anti-Discrimination Division
of the Utah Labor Commission (801) 530-6801, because they are capable
of assisting you in the time sensitive legal matters that arise with
Criminal defense cases
Complaints about an attorney or judge
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) decisions
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (formerly INS) decisions
WHY THE ACLU TURNS DOWN POSSIBLE CIVIL
There are many cases of injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to
handle. We receive hundreds of requests for help each month at this
office alone, and we must select those cases that we think will have
the greatest impact on protecting civil liberties in Utah.
CAN THE ACLU ADVISE ME ABOUT MY CASE?
If we do not accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you advice
about your case, answer questions, review your papers, or conduct legal
research for you.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT DEADLINES
All legal claims have time deadlines.
The deadlines may be different depending on who violated your rights
and which rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may
need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue, and
these agencies have their own time deadlines. The ACLU cannot give you
advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your
rights, please consult with an attorney promptly to find out what deadline
may apply in your case.
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