ACLU Fights to Defend the Rights of All

Our constitution is designed to safeguard the citizenry against government abuses of power. But all too often, the rights of those involved in the criminal justice system are compromised or ignored.

The rights guaranteed to the accused, defendants, offenders and prisoners are fundamental rights that protect all Americans from governmental abuse of power. These rights include the guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to reasonable bail, the right to due process of law and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

These rights are indispensable to a free society.

Right to Counsel

The Sixth Amendment guarantees every person accused of a crime the right to an attorney for his or her defense, regardless of ability to pay for counsel. The Fourteenth Amendment, meanwhile, guarantees all citizens equal rights regardless of race or national origin.

Yet all too often, these rights are violated by indigent defense systems that leave low-income people, including many people of color, without adequate representation. Juveniles are especially hard-hit by inadequate public defense, as conviction in juvenile court is a common first step on the school-to-prison pipeline.

Through the Racial Justice Program, the ACLU works to ensure that criminal justice systems provide equal justice for all. The ACLU has filed lawsuits around the country challenging governments’ failure to provide adequate legal representation as guaranteed by the Constitution, and we also work with state governments to craft well-functioning indigent defense systems.

Juvenile Justice 

Removed from their communities and kept out of sight, people in the criminal justice system can easily become victims of government abuses of power.

But within this group, juvenile suspects, defendants, offenders and prisoners are among the most vulnerable. Limited life experience and ignorance of their basic rights can make it difficult for youthful offenders to protect their own interests. Too often, juveniles forgo their rights without realizing that they have done so.

The ACLU works to ensure adequate representation, decent care during periods of incarceration, and other rights for those in the juvenile justice system. We also challenge policies and practices in public schools that channel students, primarily minority children, out of schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Read more about the San Diego ACLU’s criminal justice work.