Are U.S. Citizens Protected Against Civil Rights Violations by Federal Officers?

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerPeople in the United States have a number of protections against unfair or illegal actions by law enforcement officials. These Constitutional rights include Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers or other officials generally cannot enter and search a person’s property without first receiving permission or obtaining a warrant. The First Amendment also protects the right to free speech and ensures that a person will not face retaliation for legal actions such as making a complaint. 

When these rights are violated in criminal cases or other situations, people may be able to take legal action to address the issue. Lawsuits may be filed seeking monetary compensation for civil rights violations, asking the government to take action against an official who committed a violation, and putting procedures in place to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. However, due to a recent Supreme Court decision, the ability to pursue lawsuits in cases involving civil rights violations by federal agents may be limited.

How Egbert v. Boule Affects Claims Against Federal Officials

In the case Egbert v. Boule, Robert Boule, a man in northern Washington, had a history of smuggling people across the border into Canada. Erik Egbert, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent, suspected that Boule was planning to illegally transport a person who was visiting the area from Turkey. Egbert entered Boule’s property to investigate. When Boule confronted Egbert, Egbert threw him to the ground and injured him. Boule later made a complaint and Egbert retaliated by reporting him to agencies such as the IRS and the Social Security Administration, asking them to investigate Boule’s business.

To address Egbert’s actions, Boule filed what is known as a Bivens lawsuit, which allows people to address violations of Constitutional rights by federal officials. This claim was based on alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment when Egbert entered Boule’s property without authorization, as well as violations of the First Amendment when Egbert retaliated against Boule for filing a complaint. While CBP performed an inquiry and found that Egbert had acted inappropriately, it did not remove him from his position.

When the Supreme Court considered the case, the conservative majority ruled against Boule. The majority opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas stated that these issues should be addressed by Congress rather than the courts and that the courts cannot consider Bivens claims if agencies in the Executive branch of the government already have procedures for handling complaints. That is, even though CBP failed to take the proper actions against Egbert, because it had a review process in place, the courts are not allowed to address the issue.

Even though this ruling may affect people’s ability to take legal action against federal officials, it is important to understand that Constitutional rights still apply. Law enforcement officials must respect the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. There are only a few exceptions to these rights. In areas that are within 25 miles of international borders, CBP agents may enter a person’s land without a warrant, but they are not permitted to enter any buildings that are considered “dwellings.”

Contact Our Hartford Civil Rights Attorney

Even though Egbert v. Boule and other decisions by the Supreme Court may have affected certain types of civil rights cases, people in the United States still have Constitutional rights that should be protected. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of people who have been charged with crimes, and we work to ensure that our clients are treated fairly at all times. If you want to know more about how we can help address violations of your rights by police officers or other officials and how we can help you defend against criminal charges, contact our Connecticut criminal defense lawyer at 860-290-8690 and set up a free consultation today.

Sources:

https://newrepublic.com/article/166725/thomas-bivens-boule-egbert-decision

https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/four-things-the-supreme-court-ruling-egbert-v-boule-ice

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