Civil Rights

Civil Rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. Civil rights revolved around the basic right to be free from unequal treatment based on certain protected characteristics (race, gender, disability, etc.),


The Civil Rights Act of 1871 is a federal statute, numbered 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that allows people to sue the government for civil rights violations. It applies when someone acting “under color of” state-level or local law has deprived a person of rights created by the U.S. Constitution or federal statutes.

Civil Rights are rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, the 13th and 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. Civil rights include civil liberties (such as the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion), as well as due process, the right to vote, equal and fair treatment by law enforcement and the courts, and the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, such as equal access to public schools, recreation, transportation, public facilities, and housing.

Excessive force by the police during an arrest violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A person who has been a victim of excessive force may have a viable lawsuit against the arresting officers and even the municipality that employs them.

Courts have determined that the “under color of” clause requires that the person who committed the act, at least in some sense, is a representative of the state when depriving the victim of civil rights. In a nutshell, the clause refers to people who misuse some kind of authority that they get from state law. Police officers who use excessive force generally fit this bill.

Judges can consider a number of factors to decide whether, when violating someone’s federal rights, an officer was acting under the color of state law. Among them are whether the officer:

  • was on duty
  • was wearing a police uniform
  • used police equipment (like a squad car or handcuffs)
  • flashed a badge or otherwise claimed to be an officer, or
  • carried out an arrest.

When a Section 1983 suit has to do with an arrest—a central police function—a court will normally consider the officer to have acted under color of state law.

Law Office of William Carlos Weeden

The information on this website has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship or warrant that a certain result will be attained in a specific case. The Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law and the certificate, award or recognition is not a requirement to practice law in Illinois. We encourage you to contact us or another legal professional for advice regarding your individual situation.

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