Please read the following information carefully to find out how the ACLU considers new cases. If you wish to submit your case online, the instructions are listed below. We will let you know as soon as possible whether we can help, but it usually take several weeks for the staff to review your case.
Note: We only accept complaints regarding civil liberties violations that occurred in Virginia. If you are seeking assistance for a problem that occurred in another state, please click here for a national directory of ACLU offices.
What Does it Cost You?
In ACLU cases, the attorneys represent the clients free of charge. Depending on the circumstances, you may be responsible for some out-of-pocket expenses related to the case.
How Do We Choose Cases?
The ACLU of Virginia generally files cases that affect the civil liberties of large numbers of people. 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?
- Is the government involved, either directly or indirectly?
For example, we might challenge a state or local law or an action on the part of police, a public school, or a public employer (such as a state agency) that violates your constitutional rights.
Why We Prefer Cases Without Serious Factual Disputes
We usually take cases where the issue is a question of law and where there are no complicated disputes involving the facts of the case. The reasons we often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes are:
- A court might never reach the civil liberties issue if it resolves the facts against the client.
- The case is less likely to have a broad impact on the civil rights of others if the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case.
What Are Civil Liberties?
The civil liberties we seek to protect include:
- Freedom of Expression and Association: These include freedom of speech and press, the right to assemble for protests or rallies, and the right to associate with whom you choose.
- Freedom of Religion: This includes both the right of individuals to practice the religion of their choice and the separation of church and state.
- Equality Under the Law: The right to equal treatment regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, or other such classification. These rights apply to such places as the voting booth, the classroom, the workplace and the courts.
- Due Process of Law: The right to be treated fairly when facing criminal charges or other serious accusations that can result in such penalties as loss of employment, exclusion from school, denial of housing, or cut-off of public benefits.
- The Right to Privacy: The right to a guaranteed zone of personal privacy and autonomy which cannot be penetrated by the government or by other institutions, like employers, with substantial influence over an individual's rights.
- Reproductive Freedom: The right to decide whether or not to have a child, including the right to access contraception and abortion without interference from the government.
- Other civil liberties: Other civil liberties include the right to vote, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
What Cases Affect Others?
Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. A government policy or practice may be challenged which has a direct impact on many people. Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a larger impact on others in the long run when it establishes or expands legal protections.
Types of Cases the ACLU Generally CANNOT Accept
There are some kinds of cases that the ACLU generally does not take, although we will make exceptions when an important constitutional right is at stake. If your complaint falls into one of the categories listed here, please see the list of organizations on the links page for assistance.
We generally do not take the following types of cases:
- You were fired from your job without a good reason.
- You are involved in a domestic dispute, such as a divorce or custody issue.
- You were denied benefits such as unemployment or workmen's compensation.
- You have a complaint about your attorney.
- You were charged with a criminal violation.
Why the ACLU Turns Down Cases That Fall Within Our Guidelines
There are many cases and problems of unfairness and injustice which the ACLU of Virginia is simply unable to handle. With a small staff and hundreds of requests for help each month, we cannot accept many of the cases that fall within our guidelines discussed above. We must select those cases which we believe will have the greatest impact on protecting civil liberties.
Can the ACLU Advise Me About My Case?
If we do not accept your case, the ACLU staff CANNOT offer you legal advice or provide other types of assistance, such as reviewing your papers or conducting legal research. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases that we do accept.
How to Request Assistance Online
To request assistance online, please complete this online form. We will let you know as soon as possible whether we can help, but it usually takes up to four weeks.
How to Request Assistance By Mail
To request assistance by mail, please complete this intake form: ACLUofVirginiaIntakeForm.pdf. You may include additional sheets with more information, if necessary. We will let you know as soon as possible whether we can help, but please be patient; it usually takes several weeks for us to contact you. Please do not send us your original documents, just photocopies.
Please mail the completed form to the following address:
ACLU of Virginia 701 E. Franklin St., Ste. 1412 Richmond, VA 23219
Important Note About Deadlines
All legal claims have time deadlines. The deadlines may be different depending on who violated your rights and what rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue (such as the EEOC). These agencies usually 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 deadlines apply in your situation.