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Requesting Legal Assistance from the ACLU of Arizona
Please read this information carefully about the kinds of legal matters we handle and how to have the ACLU-AZ consider your issue. If you believe you have an issue that may be the kind of we accept, fill out the online complaint form. If we need more information, we will contact you.
What We Do
The ACLU-AZ is a non-governmental, not-for-profit, public interest legal organization that seeks to preserve and ensure constitutional rights and principles found in the Bill of Rights. The ACLU-AZ principally addresses issues involving challenges to a government law, policy or practice affecting the constitutional rights - that is, the civil liberties and civil rights - of a significant number of people arising in Arizona.
Through the information submitted in the complaints received the ACLU-AZ looks for systemic issues and situations taking place in Arizona involving civil rights and civil liberties issues in which our assistance may have a strong chance of making positive changes for a potentially significant number of people with the same, or similar, issue.
Almost all of our legal work involves constitutional issues and because the United States and Arizona's Constitution's protect only against unlawful government action, we rarely take on disputes involving individuals or private companies. In most cases, these constitutional provisions apply only to the government. Accordingly, in most cases, a legal matter raises a civil liberties issue only when a government official or government agency is responsible for violating your rights.
Violations of constitutional rights and civil liberties are widespread, yet the ACLU-AZ is a small organization with limited resources. We receive hundreds of requests for assistance each month and have to turn down the overwhelming majority of those requests. Generally, the ACLU-AZ only takes on issues that can affect a large number of people directly, or involving a small number of people or an individual that could set a precedent that would impact a significant number of people. We are especially interested in issues that may break new ground in interpreting constitutional rights.
- The ACLU-AZ fights for these issues through court litigation on behalf of people who have been mistreated by the government.
- The ACLU-AZ works in the community by organizing town meetings, forums and workshops to educate people about their rights, and works with local advocacy groups to leverage the public knowledge of the issues.
- The ACLU-AZ works in the legislature, advocating politicians and policymakers for laws that will protect everyone and fighting measures that would limit our freedoms.
- The ACLU is not a general legal aid services organization, like the Public Defender’s Office or other neighborhood legal service that provides legal assistance to low-income individuals, including legal advice as it pertains to specific cases. The main objective of our litigation department is to bring impact cases that defend and promote the fundamental guarantees for civil rights and individual liberties protected by federal and state constitutions.
- The ACLU-AZ cannot provide immediate or emergency services. Because of the time involved in reviewing complaints, please be careful when requesting assistance for an issue with an upcoming deadline. If you are facing an upcoming court date or similar deadline, you should continue to seek legal assistance elsewhere while we investigate your complaint. Typically, we need at least 2-3 weeks, and sometimes much longer, to respond and cannot guarantee that we will provide you with direct legal representation or advice once we have reached a decision.
- The ACLU-AZ has a policy of not interferring with the work of other attorneys. Our ethical obligations limit our ability to discuss legal issues with people who are represented by other lawyers. If you already have an attorney, please have them contact us if she/he feels that a constitutional issue is present and would like our assistance.
- The ACLU-AZ is only able to provide legal assistance in a small number of cases and we will not take on cases that other organizations are better able to handle. Please refer to our list of additional legal resources for an agency that may be better suited to address your complaint.
- The ACLU-AZ does not review or discuss requests for legal assistance in person, over the telephone, or by e-mail. You must complete our online complaint form (click here).
- If you are a prisoner or detainee who has a complaint concerning the conditions of your confinement or detention, you must exhaust all grievance procedures before contacting us according to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) of 1996. Please provide us with a complete set of copies, NOT ORIGINALS, of grievance filings and decisions.
How does the ACLU-AZ choose cases?
The ACLU-AZ generally files cases that affect the civil liberties of a large number of people, rather than a dispute between two parties. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are:
- Is this a significant civil liberties issue?
- What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
- Do we have the resources to take this case?
Unfortunately, our resources are limited; therefore, the ACLU-AZ is not able to help in every situation. We are only able to take cases that raise significant constitutional or civil liberties issues, or that affect a large number of people.
What are civil liberties?
The civil liberties we seek to protect include, but are not limited to:
- Freedom of Speech and Press: For example, a student is suspended for writing an article critical of the principal, a police officer is disciplined for speaking out against police brutality or a group is charged for police protection when it applies for a demonstration permit.
- Freedom of Religion: This involves both the right of individuals to religious belief and the separation of church and state.
- Privacy: The right to a guaranteed zone of personal autonomy free from government intrusion. For example, reproductive rights.
- Equal Protection/Discrimination: For example, this could include a sheriff's department, which refuses to accept women as deputies or a refusal to allow homeless people to vote because they have no fixed address.
- Due Process: For example, a community group is denied a permit by the police, and the town does not provide an appeal process to the decision.
The Constitution of the United States of America:
Bill of Rights:
- Click here for the First 10 Amendments to the Constitution
- Click here for the 11th and Following Amendments
Arizona State Constitution:
Understanding your rights is the first step to protecting them. When can the police stop you – and what can they legally demand? You have freedom of speech, but are there some things you cannot say or do? What are your rights at school? Our legal experts answer essential questions about your rights in a series of Know Your Rights guides. Check out our list of Know Your Rights materials.
What cases affect other?
Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. First, we sometimes challenge a practice or policy, which directly impacts many people. Second, a lawsuit is brought on behalf of one person that can impact others, when it establishes or expands a legal protection.
What does it cost?
The attorneys at the ACLU-AZ represent clients free of charge. Cases are handled by staff counsel or by cooperating attorneys in private practice.
Why does the ACLU-AZ prefer cases without serious factual investigation?
When we review a case, we are looking not only for legal merit, but for other things that would make a case a worthwhile investment for our limited resources. We do not take cases that are primarily factual disputes, have little bearing on the rights of others, or do not involve a civil rights or civil liberties issue. We prefer cases where the issue is a question of law. An example of a factual dispute is an employment discrimination case in which the employer claims he fired the employee because of poor job performance and has credible evidence to support that claim, but the employee disputes the evidence and has credible evidence of her own. The reasons we do not accept cases involving factual disputes are:
- Our limited resources;
- The court may not reach a decision on the civil liberties issues;
- The case is less likely to have a broad impact on others, if the decision rests on specific facts.
Why does the ACLU-AZ turn down cases that fall within its guidelines?
There are many cases that involve unfairness and injustice that the ACLU-AZ is simply unable to handle. We receive hundreds of requests for help each month at this office alone. Therefore, we cannot accept many of the cases that fall within our guidelines. We must select those cases that we believe will have the greatest impact on protecting civil liberties. If we do not accept your case that does not mean it does not have merit, and you may still want to consider pursuing it with a private attorney or another legal organization.
Types of cases the ACLU-AZ does not generally accept
- Employment: The ACLU-AZ usually cannot help when employees believes that they were fired unjustly or were otherwise treated unfairly at work. This is especially true when the employer is a private company rather than a government agency. But when workers can show that they were fired or mistreated because of their race, gender, ethnic background, religion, disability or any other basis that violates anti-discrimination statutes, there is stronger legal protection. In such cases, before you send a letter to the ACLU of Arizona, we ask that you contact the Arizona Attorney General’s Office – Civil Rights Division. For information about filing a complaint with the Attorney General, go to azag.gov or call 602-542-5263602-542-5263 in Phoenix or 520-628-6500520-628-6500 in Tucson. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) through their website at eeoc.gov, or by calling 1-800-669-40001-800-669-4000.
- Family law/child custody: The ACLU of Arizona generally does not provide assistance in family law cases involving disputes about divorces, child custody, parenting time, or visitation.
- Landlord-tenant dispute: The ACLU-AZ does not generally get involved in disputes between tenants and their private landlords, unless the issue involves discrimination prohibited by statute or ordinance. This includes disputes with Home Owner Associations.
- Denial of government benefits: The ACLU-AZ is unlikely to challenge a specific case of the denial of government benefits such as worker's compensation, unemployment, social security or food stamps.
- Complaints about judges: The ACLU-AZ does not handle complaints about judges or judgments. If you feel a judge has acted unethically or improperly in your case, contact Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct: (602) 452-3200(602) 452-3200.
- Complaints about attorneys: The ACLU-AZ does not handle complaints about a person’s current court-appointed attorney. Complaints regarding ineffective assistance of counsel should be submitted to the Arizona State Bar Association.
- Criminal defense: The ACLU-AZ generally does not provide criminal defense attorneys to persons who are accused of crimes. There is an exception, however, when the alleged criminal activity clearly implicates a constitutional right such as freedom of speech. Thus, the ACLU-AZ is unlikely to provide a criminal defense to someone charged with burglary, even if the person asserts that the evidence was obtained in a search that violates the Fourth Amendment. On the other hand, the ACLU-AZ would consider assisting in the criminal defense of persons arrested for participating in a demonstration, if the arrests infringed on the right of free expression.
- Challenges to convictions or prison sentences: It is very unlikely that the ACLU-AZ would provide an attorney to challenge a person’s criminal conviction or the length of a prison sentence. Similarly, the ACLU-AZ will not be able to help prisoners who believe that the length of their sentence has been calculated incorrectly. If a pending appeal raises an important constitutional issue, the ACLU-AZ may submit an amicus brief in the appellate courts. Requests for amicus briefs should come from your appellate attorney.
- Cases that are too old: There are time deadlines for initiating most legal actions. If the incident occurred too far in the past, it may be too late for a legal remedy. The ACLU of Arizona cannot provide advice about what time deadlines may apply to your particular legal matter.
- Cases that arise outside Arizona: The ACLU of Arizona cannot provide legal assistance if the matter did not take place in or arise in Arizona, even if the prisoner is now housed in the state. To find ACLU affiliates in other states, go the www.aclu.org.
To find other agencies that may be better able to provide assistance in these areas, visit our Additional Legal Resources page.
How Do I Request Assistance?
- The preferred and easiest way to request help from ACLU-AZ is by completing our online complaint form. If we believe we can assist you, we will contact you for more information within ten business days. If you do not hear from us within ten business days, we are unable to assist you at this time.
- If there is absolutely no way for you to submit your complaint online, please call (602) 650-1854(602) 650-1854 ext. 112, and leave a message with your name and complete mailing address and a complaint form will be mailed to you. Please return your complaint form to: ACLU-AZ Intake, P.O. Box 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85011. If we believe we can assist you, we will contact you for more information within four to eight weeks.
- The complaint form is designed to assist the legal department in the evaluation of your grievance. When filling out the form please provide just the facts of the matter and answer as many of the questions as you can. If you have any documentation to support your claim, please make note of what documentation you have on the form, but DO NOT include it at this time. If we need further information we have your address and/or telephone number and can contact you to request any additional documents needed to evaluate your complaint. All complaint files are kept confidential and are disposed of after two years.
- Each complaint is reviewed by legal staff to determine whether it constitutes a civil liberties issue and if the ACLU-AZ has the ability to help. There are many factors that go into determining whether we may be of assistance at any given time, including availability of staff, resources and timing.
- If the ACLU-AZ is able to offer you assistance after your initial intake, we will contact you to gather more information about your situation. Please do not send additional documents when submitting your complaint; we will not be able to return copies of items submitted.
- If your situation is time sensitive, please continue to look for help elsewhere while we review your complaint. Please refer to our additional legal resources page for more legal resouces and agencies working in specific issue areas.
Can the ACLU-AZ advise me about my case?
The ACLU-AZ cannot give legal advice about your case, nor answer any legal questions, review papers, conduct legal research, provide information about the legal deadlines that might apply to your situation or provide you with other kind of assistance unless we accept your case. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases that we do accept.
- To ask a quick legal question for a minimal fee, contact the Lawyer Referral Service at (602) 257-4434(602) 257-4434 or (520) 623-8258(520) 623-8258.
Important information about deadlines (Statutes of Limitation):
All legal claims have time deadlines. These deadlines are different depending on the nature of the legal claim, the persons who violate your rights, and which particular rights were violated. Contacting the ACLU-AZ to describe your problem does not mean that ACLU-AZ attorneys represent you, and contacting the ACLU-AZ does not stop these time deadlines from running. The ACLU-AZ cannot provide you with advice about which time deadlines might apply to your particular situation. To ensure that your rights are protected, you may need to consult an attorney promptly to find out what time deadlines may apply in your case.
Visit our Additional Legal Resources page to find other agencies and organizations that may be able to assist you.