Before submitting a complaint, please read through this information which describes what the ACLU of Utah does and the types of cases we generally accept. Also, please look through the list of common referrals. If your issue is covered by one of these other organizations, they may be better equipped to help you.
The ACLU of Utah defends civil liberties protected by the Constitution. We are not a government agency or a general legal services organization. Due to limited resources, we can offer direct legal representation in only a small number of cases. We do not give general legal advice or provide emergency services. For general information on your rights, you can reference our “Know Your Rights” material on our website. We appreciate all complaints of potential civil liberties / civil rights violations. Each complaint is recorded for future review so we can identify areas in need of systemic change. If we determine that we are able to provide legal representation, we will notify you. We may also send you some information on how you can seek help. If you do not hear from us it is because your complaint does not fit into our program or within our limited resources. For the fastest response from the ACLU of Utah, please read about the types of cases the ACLU chooses to take on, and then submit an online complaint form.
THE ACLU OF UTAH DEALS WITH CIVIL LIBERTIES AND CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUES
Basic freedoms are guaranteed to all individuals in this country. Civil liberty violations generally involve abuse of governmental power, and thus involve a law, ordinance, agency, or someone who represents the government.
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 / Discrimination:
• A school provides athletic opportunities for male but not female students.
• A sheriff’s department refuses to hire women deputies.
• A local restaurant refuses to serve a person based on his or her sexual orientation.
• A school suspends a student and has no written policy or appeals process.
• A community group is denied a protest permit by the 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.
WE FOCUS ON CASES THAT HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO AFFECT THE CIVIL RIGHTS OR CIVIL LIBERTIES OF A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE
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 employee, if successful, could set a precedent for thousands of workers.
WE PREFER CASES WITHOUT SERIOUS FACTUAL DISPUTES
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 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.
THE ACLU GENERALLY DOES NOT ACCEPT THE FOLLOWING TYPES OF CASES:
• Employment / workplace discrimination cases
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 this issue.
• Criminal defense cases
• Proving innocence after conviction
• Complaints about an attorney or judge
• Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) decisions
• Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (formerly INS) decisions
• Housing issues • Disability issues (mental or physical)
• Property disputes
• Complains against a private (non-government) entity
If your case falls into one of the above categories, please refer to the “common referrals” page for an organization that is better equipped to assist you.
WE CANNOT HELP WITH EMERGENCY OR TIME-SENSITIVE SITUATIONS
If your complaint has any time constraints you must look into other resources. You may want to contact another attorney for advice about preserving any rights that you may have. Please do not wait to hear from us before taking other legal action. We are unable to assist people in emergency situations.
WE CAN ONLY ENGAGE IN A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF COMPLAINTS WE RECIEVE
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. We must select those cases that we think will have the greatest impact on protecting civil liberties in Utah.
WE CANNOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE WITHOUT ACCEPTING YOUR CASE
If we do not accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you advice about your case, to answer questions, review your papers or conduct legal research for you. For general information on rights protected by the Constitution, refer to our “Know Your Rights” material.
WE DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE WORK OF OTHER ATTORNEYS
If you already have an attorney, please have your attorney contact us if s/he feels that a constitutional issue is present and would like our assistance. We have a policy of not interfering with the work of other attorneys.
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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