The ACLU of Hawai‘i is able to provide legal assistance in only a small number of cases. Violations of constitutional rights and civil liberties are widespread, but the ACLU of Hawai‘i is a small organization. We receive hundreds of requests for assistance each year. Because of our limited resources, however, we are able to investigate only a small percentage of the potentially meritorious requests for assistance we receive. As a result, we have to turn down the overwhelming majority of those requests for assistance.
The ACLU of Hawai‘i only handles cases that involve violations of civil liberties and civil rights. Civil liberties include the right to due process and equal protection of the law, as well as freedom of expression; freedom of the press; religious freedom; the right of association; the right of privacy; the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizures, and the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.
Many of these civil liberties are protected by provisions in the United States Constitution such as the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, and also by similar provisions in the Hawai‘i Constitution. 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 governmental official or a governmental agency is responsible for violating your rights.
Civil rights statutes strengthen the right to equal protection by prohibiting private businesses as well as governmental agencies from discriminating. If you are the victim of discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic background, gender, religion, disability, and in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation, you may have a legal remedy.
- Family Law. The ACLU of Hawai‘i generally does not provide assistance in family law cases involving disputes about divorces, child custody, parenting time, or visitation.
- Denial of government benefits. The ACLU of Hawai‘i is unlikely to challenge a specific case of the denial of government benefits, such as workers’ compensation, unemployment, social security, or food stamps.
- Landlord-tenant disputes. The ACLU of Hawai‘i does not generally get involved in disputes between tenants and their private landlords, unless the issue involves discrimination prohibited by statutes or ordinance.
- Criminal defense. The ACLU of Hawai‘i 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 of Hawai‘i 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 of Hawai‘i would consider assisting in the criminal defense of a person 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 of Hawai‘i would provide an attorney to challenge a person’s criminal conviction or the length of a prison sentence. Similarly, the ACLU of Hawai‘i 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 of Hawai‘i may submit an amicus brief in the appellate courts. Requests for amicus briefs should come from your appellate attorney.
- Complaints about attorneys. The ACLU of Hawai‘i does not handle complaints about a person’s current court-appointed attorney.
- Employment. The ACLU of Hawai‘i 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, we ask that you pursue your complaint with the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) before you send a letter to the ACLU of Hawai‘i. For information about filing a complaint with the HCRC, write 830 Punchbowl Street, Room 411, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813, or call the agency at (808) 586-8636.
- Cases that are too old. There are filing 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 Hawai‘i cannot provide advice about what time deadlines may apply to your particular legal matter.
- Cases that arise outside Hawai‘i. Excepting only matters concerning Hawaii inmates housed on the mainland, the ACLU of Hawai‘i does not provide legal assistance if the matter did not take place in or arise in Hawai‘i. To find ACLU affiliates in other states, go to www.aclu.org.
If the ACLU does not accept your case, we cannot provide legal advice. If the ACLU of Hawai‘i is not able to provide legal assistance, we also cannot provide legal advice about your case. We will not be able to answer questions about the legal significance of the facts, conduct legal research, or provide information about the legal deadlines that might apply to your situation. This policy allows us to direct our limited researches to the cases that we do accept.
Important information about deadlines. All legal claims have time deadlines. These deadlines may be different depending on the nature of the legal claim, the persons who violate your rights, and which particular rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may need to file a notice or pursue other administrative remedies with a government agency before you can file suit in court. These administrative procedures also have their own time deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable time deadlines, you could be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court. Contacting the ACLU of Hawai‘i to describe your problem does not mean that ACLU attorneys represent you, and contacting the ACLU of Hawai‘i does not stop these time deadlines from running. The ACLU of Hawai‘i 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.
What to include in your written request for legal assistance. Your request for legal assistance will be processed after we receive a letter that requests our help and describes the facts of your situation. We will respond to you in writing within 4 to 6 weeks. Please allow sufficient time for us to evaluate your letter. Send to:
ACLU of Hawaii
P.O. Box 3410
Honolulu, HI 96801
BEFORE YOU EMAIL:
If you email the ACLU of Hawai‘i (hereafter the ACLU), it will be transmitted over the Internet as unencrypted email. This message is a warning that unencrypted email may not be a secure form of communication. Including any highly sensitive information such as Social Security numbers in email may expose this information.
The main point at which unencrypted e-mail communication may not be secure is on the sender’s (your) end. Specifically, if you are using a public or shared computer to send an e-mail to the ACLU, your messages may be available to anyone else who has access to that computer. You may wish to take precautions to prevent other people from accessing your private or confidential e-mails on your end. There is also a small but real risk that your e-mail message could be intercepted or stored as it passes through e-mail servers on its Internet delivery route to the
ACLU. Generally, consider unencrypted email to be about as private as a postcard.
Once any email you send for the legal team arrives at the ACLU, only authorized members of the ACLU staff will have access to your complaint. In accordance with applicable lawyer ethics rules, any information you share with us will be protected as confidential and will not be shared with people outside the ACLU’s Legal Department without your authorization. If you are concerned about the security of your e-mail, you could alternately send your inquiry via U.S. Mail or fax.
Be sure to provide all necessary information for contacting you by mail and by telephone. It is also helpful to include your email address if you have one. (If you write from a county jail or other temporary facility, please include the name and contact information of a close relative or friend who will always know where you are.) In your letter, please describe in detail the incident or the issue that prompted you to request legal assistance:
- In describing the incident, it may be helpful to answer the five “W” questions: who, what, when, where and why.
- Be sure to identify the persons, business, institutions, or government agencies who are responsible for violating your rights.
- If the offending person or agency provided you with some sort of explanation, please let us know. If possible, please explain why you believe that explanation is not adequate.
- If the specific incident resulted in newspaper coverage, it may be helpful to include copies of the clippings.
- If you have documents, please send copies only; we cannot return originals.
- If your complaint involves mistreatment by police officers, it is especially helpful if you could obtain a copy of whatever report the police wrote.
- If you have already taken some action, such as filing an appeal or a complaint, please let us know the status of the matter.
- Please indicate whether the ACLU of Hawai‘i is authorized to write a letter of inquiry or a letter of protest using your name.
- Finally, please let us know what you are asking the ACLU of Hawai‘i to do for you.