From race discrimination, to sexual harassment and fair housing rights violations Continue reading
24 — Housing and Urban Development
Equal opportunity in housing Continue reading
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces several federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs Continue reading
The 1965 Enactment
By 1965, concerted efforts to break the grip of voter disfranchisement in certain states had been under way for some time, but had achieved only modest success overall and in some areas had proved almost entirely ineffectual. The murder of voting-rights activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi, gained national attention, along with numerous other acts of violence and terrorism. Finally, the unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965, by state troopers on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, en route to the state capitol in Montgomery, persuaded President Johnson and Congress to overcome Southern legislators’ resistance to effective voting rights legislation. President Johnson issued a call for a strong voting rights law and hearings began soon thereafter on the bill that would become the Voting Rights Act.
Congress determined that the existing federal anti-discrimination laws were not sufficient to overcome the resistance by state officials to enforcement of the 15th Amendment. The legislative hearings showed that the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to eliminate discriminatory election practices by litigation on a case-by-case basis had been unsuccessful in opening up the registration process; as soon as one discriminatory practice or procedure was proven to be unconstitutional and enjoined, a new one would be substituted in its place and litigation would have to commence anew.
President Johnson signed the resulting legislation into law on August 6, 1965. Section 2 of the Act, which closely followed the language of the 15th amendment, applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the literacy tests on a nationwide basis. Among its other provisions, the Act contained special enforcement provisions targeted at those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest. Under Section 5, jurisdictions covered by these special provisions could not implement any change affecting voting until the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect. In addition, the Attorney General could designate a county covered by these special provisions for the appointment of a federal examiner to review the qualifications of persons who wanted to register to vote. Further, in those counties where a federal examiner was serving, the Attorney General could request that federal observers monitor activities within the county’s polling place.
The Voting Rights Act had not included a provision prohibiting poll taxes, but had directed the Attorney General to challenge its use. In Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the Supreme Court held Virginia’s poll tax to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. Between 1965 and 1969 the Supreme Court also issued several key decisions upholding the constitutionality of Section 5 and affirming the broad range of voting practices that required Section 5 review. As the Supreme Court put it in its 1966 decision upholding the constitutionality of the Act:
Congress had found that case-by-case litigation was inadequate to combat wide-spread and persistent discrimination in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics invariably encountered in these lawsuits. After enduring nearly a century of systematic resistance to the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress might well decide to shift the advantage of time and inertia from the perpetrators of the evil to its victims. South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 327-28 (1966).
The 1970 and 1975 Amendments
Congress extended Section 5 for five years in 1970 and for seven years in 1975. With these extensions Congress validated the Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of the scope of Section 5. During the hearings on these extensions Congress heard extensive testimony concerning the ways in which voting electorates were manipulated through gerrymandering, annexations, adoption of at-large elections, and other structural changes to prevent newly-registered black voters from effectively using the ballot. Congress also heard extensive testimony about voting discrimination that had been suffered by Hispanic, Asian and Native American citizens, and the 1975 amendments added protections from voting discrimination for language minority citizens.
In 1973, the Supreme Court held certain legislative multi-member districts unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment on the ground that they systematically diluted the voting strength of minority citizens in Bexar County, Texas. This decision in White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755 (1973), strongly shaped litigation through the 1970s against at-large systems and gerrymandered redistricting plans. In Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980), however, the Supreme Court required that any constitutional claim of minority vote dilution must include proof of a racially discriminatory purpose, a requirement that was widely seen as making such claims far more difficult to prove.
The 1982 Amendments
Congress renewed in 1982 the special provisions of the Act, triggered by coverage under Section 4 for twenty-five years. Congress also adopted a new standard, which went into effect in 1985, providing how jurisdictions could terminate (or “bail out” from) coverage under the provisions of Section 4. Furthermore, after extensive hearings, Congress amended Section 2 to provide that a plaintiff could establish a violation of the Section without having to prove discriminatory purpose.
A number of federal statutes prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion. These federal laws prohibit discrimination against American Indians and Alaska natives in education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations, voting, and in certain federally-funded and conducted programs, among other areas. Tribal governments and State and local governments may also have laws or procedures protecting civil rights. At the federal level, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing federal statutes that prohibit discrimination against American Indians and Alaska natives. The following areas of discussion may be of particular interest to American Indians and Alaska natives.
Criminal Statutes Protecting American Indian and Alaska Natives’ Civil Rights
As citizens and residents of the United States, American Indians and Alaska Natives have many rights protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. You have, for example, a right to live and to associate in your home with any person without being subjected to force on the basis of your race, nationality, or religion. You also have a right to apply for or engage in employment; to enroll in or attend public school; to use the services offered by hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment; to vote; and to use certain public facilities and to participate in any activity provided or administered by a locality, such as using a public park, without being subjected to force or threats of force. You have a right to obtain reproductive health services and information without being subjected to force or threats of force or physical obstruction. These are only some of the federally-protected rights which are most commonly subjected to criminal interference.
Federal law prohibits public elementary and secondary schools and public institutions of higher education from denying students equal educational opportunities because of their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, or disability. The denial of equal educational opportunities includes the failure by public school districts to provide programs and assistance to students with limited English-proficiency in learning English so that they can participate fully in the educational process.
Discrimination can occur in the assignment of students to schools and classes and academic programs, the transportation of students, the hiring and placement of faculty and administrators, the condition of educational facilities, and the distribution of school district resources.
American Indian children who reside within a school district, and who live on an Indian reservation where the land is not taxed, have the right to the same educational opportunities that are offered to all other children living in the school district.
Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against persons because of their race, sex, color, religion, national origin, or citizenship status. Thus, an employer cannot refuse to hire or promote you, nor can an employer discipline, harass, or fire you, on the basis of your being an American Indian or Alaska Native. Please note that Indian tribes in their capacity as employers are not subject to the law’s prohibition on employment discrimination. However, charges of employment discrimination may be filed against any employer that is not itself an Indian tribe, regardless of the tribal membership of the individual owner.
Discrimination in the provision of housing because of a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status is illegal under federal law. If you believe you have been discriminated against in the process of renting or buying an apartment or a house because you are an American Indian or Alaska Native, you can file a complaint of housing discrimination.
Discrimination in lending practices because of race, color, sex, or national origin is prohibited by Federal law. If you believe that you have been denied a loan merely because you are an American Indian or Alaska Native, you can ask the lender for an explanation in writing about the reasons why you were denied the loan. You may also file a complaint for lending discrimination.
Federal law makes it unlawful for State or local law enforcement officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. The types of conduct covered by this law include, among other things, excessive force, discriminatory harassment, false arrest, coercive sexual conduct, and unlawful stops, searches, or arrests. The statutes do not apply to tribal police officers or Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers.
From the U.S. Department of Justice
What federal law protects me from discrimination in voting?
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects every American against racial discrimination in voting. This law also protects the voting rights of many people who have limited English skills. It stands for the principle that everyone’s vote is equal, and that neither race nor language should shut any of us out of the political process. You can find the Voting Rights Act in the United States Code at 42 U.S.C. 1973 to 1973aa-6.
Where did the Voting Rights Act come from?
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, at the height of the civil rights movement in the South, a movement committed to securing equal voting rights for African Americans. The action came immediately after one of the most important events of that movement, a clash between black civil rights marchers and white police in Selma, Alabama. The marchers were starting a 50-mile walk to the state capital, Montgomery, to demand equal rights in voting, when police used violence to disperse them. What happened that day in Selma shocked the nation, and led President Johnson to call for immediate passage of a strong federal voting rights law.
What does the Voting Rights Act do?
The Voting Rights Act bans all kinds of racial discrimination in voting. For years, many states had laws on their books that served only to prevent minority citizens from voting. Some of these laws required people to take a reading test or interpret some passage out of the Constitution in order to vote, or required people registering to vote to bring someone already registered who would vouch for their “good character.” The Voting Rights Act made these and other discriminatory practices illegal, and gave private citizens the right to sue in federal court to stop them. In recent times, courts have applied the Act to end race discrimination in the method of electing state and local legislative bodies and in the choosing of poll officials.
Will the Voting Rights Act expire?
No. The Voting Rights Act is a permanent federal law. Moreover, the equal right to vote regardless of race or color is protected by the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has been part of our law since the end of the Civil War. And in case after case, our courts have held that the right to vote is fundamental. Voting rights will not expire.
However, some sections of the Voting Rights Act need to be renewed to remain in effect. When Congress amended and strengthened the Voting Rights Act in 1982, it extended for 25 more years–until 2007–the preclearance requirement of Section 5, the authority to use federal examiners and observers, and some of the statute’s language minority requirements. So, for those sections to extend past 2007, Congress will have to take action. But even if these special provisions are not renewed, the rest of the Voting Rights Act will continue to prohibit discrimination in voting.
What is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act?
Section 5 is a special provision of the statute (42 U.S.C. 1973c) that requires state and local governments in certain parts of the country to get federal approval (known as”preclearance”) before implementing any changes they want to make in their voting procedures: anything from moving a polling place to changing district lines in the county.
Under Section 5, a covered state, county or local government entity must demonstrate to federal authorities that the voting change in question (1) does not have a racially discriminatory purpose; and (2) will not make minority voters worse off than they were prior to the change (i.e. the change will not be “retrogressive”).
Section 5 applies to all or parts of the following states:
What kinds of racial discrimination in voting are there, and what does the Voting Rights Act do about them?
The Voting Rights Act is not limited to discrimination that literally excludes minority voters from the polls. Section 2 of the Act (42 U.S.C. 1973) makes it illegal for any state or local government to use election processes that are not equally open to minority voters, or that give minority voters less opportunity than other voters to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice to public office. In particular, Section 2 makes it illegal for state and local governments to “dilute” the votes of racial minority groups, that is, to have an election system that makes minority voters’ votes less effective than those of other voters. One of many forms of minority vote dilution is the drawing of district lines that divide minority communities and keep them from putting enough votes together to elect representatives of their choice to public office. Depending on the circumstances, dilution can also result from at-large voting for governmental bodies. When coupled with a long-standing pattern of racial discrimination in the community, these and other election schemes can deny minority voters a fair chance to elect their preferred candidates.
To show vote dilution in these situations, there must be a geographically concentrated minority population and voting that is polarized by race, that is, a pattern in which minority voters and white voters tend to vote differently as groups. It must also be shown that white voters, by voting as a bloc against minority-choice candidates, usually beat those candidates even if minority voters are unified or cohesive at the polls.
Anyone aggrieved by minority vote dilution can bring a federal lawsuit to stop it. If the court decides that the effect of an election system, in combination with all the local circumstances, is to make minority votes less effective than white votes, it can order a change in the election system. For example, courts have ordered states and localities to adopt districting plans to replace at-large voting, or to redraw their election district lines in a way that gives minority voters the same opportunity as other voters to elect representatives of their choice.
Is it prohibited to draw majority-minority districts?
No. Over 30 years ago the Supreme Court held that jurisdictions are free to draw majority-minority election districts that follow traditional, non-racial districting considerations, such as geographic compactness and keeping communities of interest together. Later Supreme Court decisions have held that drawing majority-minority districts may be required to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
While it remains legally permissible for jurisdictions to take race into account when drawing election districts, the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution requires a strong justification if racial considerations predominate over traditional districting principles. One such justification may be the need to remedy a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. While such a remedy may include election district boundaries that compromise traditional districting principles, such districts must be drawn where the Section 2 violation occurs and must not compromise traditional principles more than is necessary to remedy the violation.
What other voting rights laws exist?
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (often referred to as the “motor voter” law) requires states to make voter registration opportunities available when people apply for or receive services at a variety of government agencies, from driver’s license offices to social services agencies and public benefits offices. The law says states must not take voters off the rolls merely because they have not voted, and it requires states to keep their voter rolls up to date by removing the names of voters who have died or moved away. It may be found at 42 U.S.C. 1973gg to 1973gg-10.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (42 U.S.C. 1973ff to 1973ff-6) requires states to make sure that members of our armed forces who are stationed away from home, and citizens who are living overseas, can register and vote absentee in federal elections.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 (42 U.S.C. 1973ee to 1973ee-6) requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities.
Does the Voting Rights Act protect language minorities?
Yes. The Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate in voting based on someone’s membership in a language minority group. The idea behind the Voting Rights Act’s minority language provisions is to remove language as a barrier to political participation, and to prevent voting discrimination against people who speak minority languages. The Justice Department enforces these protections by bringing lawsuits in federal court, by sending federal observers to monitor elections, and by working with local jurisdictions to improve their minority language election procedures.
Many jurisdictions with people of Hispanic, Native American, and Alaskan Native heritage are covered by Section 5 of the Act.
The Voting Rights Act further protects minority language group members by requiring particular jurisdictions to print ballots and other election materials in the minority language as well as in English, and to have oral translation help available at the polls where the need exists. The formulas for determining which jurisdictions must do this are based on the share of the local population in need. The Act requires bilingual election procedures in various states and counties for voters who speak Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, and more than a dozen Native American and Alaskan Native languages.
If you have a complaint about a bank or other financial institution, the Federal Reserve System might be able to help you. The Federal Reserve is responsible for carrying out many of the federal laws that protect consumers in their dealings with financial institutions. The Board of Governors, located in Washington, D.C., works with the twelve Federal Reserve Banks around the country to make certain the commercial banks that the Federal Reserve supervises abide by these laws. The Federal Reserve can help individual consumers by:
- Answering questions about banking practices, and
- Investigating complaints about specific banks under the Reserve’s supervisory jurisdiction. Complaints about financial institutions that are not supervised by the Federal Reserve System are referred to the appropriate federal agency.
What Kinds of Complaints are Investigated?
As a federal regulatory agency, the Federal Reserve System investigates consumer complaints received against state chartered banks that are members of the System. If you think a bank has been unfair or deceptive in its dealings with you, or has violated a law or regulation, as a consumer you have the right to file a complaint.
The Federal Reserve is particularly concerned that state member banks comply with federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination in lending. In such cases, additional steps are taken to ensure that your complaint is promptly and thoroughly investigated. In addition, complaints alleging discrimination in housing that are covered by the Fair Housing Act are referred to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
How to File a Complaint
Before writing or calling the Federal Reserve, consumers are encouraged to try to settle the problem with the financial institution first. This may involve directly contacting senior bank management or the bank’s customer service representative for assistance. If you are still unable to resolve the problem, you may file a written complaint with the Federal Reserve including the following information:
- Your name, address and daytime telephone number, including area code;
- Name and address of the bank involved in your complaint or inquiry;
- Your bank or credit card account number;
- The name of the person you contacted at the bank, along with the date, if applicable;
- Description of the complaint. State what happened, giving the dates involved and the names of those you dealt with at the bank. Include copies of any letters or other documents that may help the Federal Reserve to investigate your complaint. Please do not send original documents, copies are preferred; and remember to sign and date your letter.
It’s important to give the Federal Reserve as much information about the problem as possible; this will assist the Federal Reserve in providing a quicker response to you.
Where to Send Complaints
Send your complaint to:
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Division of Consumer and Community Affairs
20th and C Streets, N.W., Stop 801
Washington, DC 20551
For further information you may call (202) 452-3693.
What Will the Federal Reserve Do?
Consumer complaints filed against state member banks are investigated by the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks. Once received, your complaint will be reviewed by the consumer affairs staff who will contact the bank about your concern. The Reserve Bank will investigate each issue raised in your letter and ask the bank involved for information and records in response to your complaint. If additional information is needed, the Reserve Bank will contact you by telephone or in writing. The Reserve Bank will analyze the bank’s response to your complaint to ensure that your concerns have been addressed and will send a letter to you about their findings. If the investigation reveals that a federal law or regulation has been violated, the Reserve Bank will inform you of the violation and the corrective action the bank has been directed to take.
From race discrimination to sexual harassment and fair housing rights violations, if you believe you have been the victim of a civil rights violation, you most likely have questions about your situation and your options. Following is an overview of initial questions to ask and steps to take if you believe that your civil rights have been violated.
(Note: In any potential legal situation involving civil rights, you should speak with an experienced Civil Rights Attorney at the outset. Legal issues involving civil rights can be very complicated, and can be very difficult to resolve without proper expertise.)
Was a “Protected Right” Violated?
The first question you should ask is whether a “protected right” has been violated. You may feel that your rights have been violated, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that your civil rights were violated. Only certain rights are protected under civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. Some apparent “rights violations” are in fact perfectly legal, and cannot form the basis for a civil rights case. The examples below point out the difference between lawful discrimination and an unlawful civil rights violation, in the area of housing rights.
Example 1: Applicant 1, an owner of two dogs, fills out an application to lease an apartment from Landlord. Upon learning that Applicant 1 is a dog owner, Landlord refuses to lease the apartment to her, because he does not want dogs in his building. Here, Landlord has not committed a civil rights violation by discriminating against Applicant 1 based solely on her status as a pet owner. Landlord is free to reject apartment applicants who own pets.
Example 2: Applicant 2, an African-American man, fills out an application to lease an apartment from Landlord. Upon learning that Applicant 2 is an African-American, Landlord refuses to lease the apartment to him, because he prefers to have Caucasian tenants in his building. Here, Landlord has committed a civil rights violation by discriminating against Applicant 2 based solely on his race. Under federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws, Landlord may not reject apartment applicants because of their race.
If a Protected Right Was Violated: Your Options
If you believe that a protected right was violated, you likely have a number of options available to you — including resolving the matter through informal negotiations, filing a claim with the government, and filing a private lawsuit in civil court.
As with most legal disputes, your civil rights matter can be resolved without your having to file papers in court, or face the prospect of a lengthy legal battle. For example, a potential employment discrimination matter can be resolved by both sides (typically through the employer and employee and their respective attorneys) sitting down and drafting an agreement in which the employer agrees to pay the employee a certain amount as severance, and the employee agrees to give up any right to sue over the matter.
Filing a Claim with the Government
For most cases involving civil rights violations, one of your options is to file a complaint with the government at the federal or state level, and allow a government agency to take steps to enforce your civil rights. Filing a complaint will usually trigger an investigation into your claims by the agency, and the government may take further action on your behalf. Whether your complaint is handled at the federal or state level will depend on the facts of your case and the claims involved (what laws were allegedly violated, etc.). What matters most is that your complaint gets filed; after that, the agencies will decide where and how your case will be handled. In most cases, neither the offender nor the victim need be affiliated with the government. It is important to note that, for some types of civil rights cases, a claim must be filed with the government before any private lawsuit may be pursued.
Filing a Private Lawsuit for a Civil Rights Violation
If you believe you have been the victim of a civil rights violation, you most likely have the option of filing a lawsuit against those responsible for any harm suffered as a result.
Once you decide to file a lawsuit for a civil rights violation, one of your first considerations will be where to file: in federal or state court. Depending on the specifics of your case, the choice may be yours, or your options may be dictated by an applicable law. Regardless of where the case is handled (federal or state court), in order to begin the case the person claiming a civil rights violation (the “plaintiff”) files a “complaint” with the court. The complaint sets out certain facts and allegations, in an attempt to show that the opposing party (the “defendant(s)”) is/are responsible for the civil rights violations alleged in the complaint, and for any harm suffered by the plaintiff as a result. Remember that, for some types of civil rights cases, you must file a claim with the appropriate government agency before pursuing any private lawsuit.
Civil Rights Violations: Hiring a Lawyer
As mentioned above, if you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced Civil Rights Attorney. Important decisions related to your situation can be complicated — including whether a “protected right” was violated, which laws apply to the situation, whether you must file a claim with the government, and where you might file a lawsuit. A Civil Rights Attorney will evaluate all aspects of your case and explain all options available to you, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.
Q. What are the differences between a civil and a criminal civil rights violation?
A. A criminal violation requires the use or threat of force. Other distinctions between criminal and civil cases brought by the government are:
|Who is charged:||Accused person||Usually an organization|
|Standard of proof:||Beyond a reasonable doubt||Preponderance of evidence|
|Victim:||Identified individuals||Individuals and/or representatives of a group or class|
|Remedy sought:||Prison, fine, restitution, community service||Correct policies and practices, relief for individuals|
|Govt’s right to appeal:||Very limited||Yes|
Criminal cases are investigated and prosecuted differently from civil cases. More and stronger evidence is needed to obtain a criminal conviction than to win a civil suit. Should the defendant be acquitted, the government has no right of appeal. A federal criminal conviction also requires a unanimous decision by 12 jurors (or by a judge only if the defendant chooses not to have a jury). Civil cases are usually heard by a judge, but occasionally a jury will decide the case. Both criminal and civil cases can be resolved without a trial where both sides agree and with the concurrence of the judge; this is done by a plea agreement in a criminal case and by a consent decree in a civil suit. In criminal cases, judges must use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in determining the defendant’s punishment, whereas judges in civil suits may or may not adopt remedies as recommended by the government when it wins.
Q. If there is no violence or threat of violence, whom should I contact?
A. If no violence is involved, complaints should be submitted in writing to the Civil Rights Division, where it will be forwarded to the appropriate Section for review. The Division’s mailing address is:
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Q. What do I do when my civil rights have been violated, and can I make a complaint on behalf of someone else? Must it be in writing?
A. Individuals may report possible violations on their own or on behalf of others if they have sufficient first-hand information about the incident. The information provided should include names of the victim(s), any witnesses, and the perpetrators (if known), a description of the events, and whether any physical injuries or physical damage were incurred. Complaints in writing are preferred, but there may be circumstances when a telephone complaint is appropriate (especially if there is an immediate danger). The “blue pages” of your local telephone book should have the phone numbers and addresses for the agencies shown below.
- Local FBI field office or
- Local police department
Health care access interference:
- Local FBI field office [phone threats]
- Local ATF (Treasury) [bombing or arson]
Involuntary servitude or migrant worker exploitation:
- Local FBI field office or
- Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force — 1-888-428-7581 (weekdays 9 AM – 5 PM EST) — [available in 100 languages during work hours and English, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin after hours]
- Local FBI field office and/or
- Local HUD office
- Local FBI field office
Religious interference or property damage:
- Local FBI field office
If you are unable to locate the appropriate office listed above, please send the complaint in writing directly to the Criminal Section at the following address:
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66018
Washington, D.C. 20035-6018
Q. Is there a cost involved in making a complaint?
A. There is NO FEE required to file a complaint.
Q. What help can I receive if I am a victim whose civil rights have been violated?
A. During the course of a federal criminal civil rights investigation, the victim may be eligible to receive compensation and other assistance provided through various local government and private agencies. Each state has eligibility requirements for receiving compensation, usually requiring that the victim promptly report the incident and cooperate with the police and prosecutors. In general, victims may be compensated for medical and mental health treatment, funerals, lost wages, and crime scene clean-up.
These programs have been established in every state and receive federal grants from a fund consisting of fines paid by convicted defendants nationwide.
Q. Can a victim receive monetary compensation as the result of a criminal case?
A. If a defendant is convicted as the result of a federal criminal civil rights prosecution, the government will ask the court to order restitution to be paid to the victim where it is permitted by law and appropriate to the facts of the case.
Q. Will the federal government represent me in a lawsuit against the defendant?
A. The United States government cannot represent a victim in a civil suit arising out of a criminal civil rights violation. Victims may contact a private attorney to pursue a civil action even if there has been a federal prosecution for the same incident.
Q. Do all federal criminal civil rights violations require racial, religious, or ethnic hatred? If not, what does “color of law” mean?
A. Official misconduct and slavery cases (such as police beatings and migrant worker exploitation) do NOT require that the law enforcement officer or exploiter have acted out of hatred for the victim because of the victim’s race, national origin, color, or religion. However, there are several laws that do require that the unlawful acts be based upon such a discriminatory motivation. These include housing and religious interference or acts intended to prevent an individual from enjoying certain federal rights (voting, employment, use of public facilities or access to health care [gender]).
“Color of law” is a legal term used in official misconduct cases. It means that the law enforcement officer acted while abusing the authority given to him or her by reason of his or her employment as a public official.