Requests for Legal Assistance

Before submitting your complaint for review by the ACLU legal team – using the link provided below – please carefully read ALL of the following information.

The ACLU receives hundreds of requests for legal assistance from individuals throughout the state. Because of limited resources we are unable to respond in detail to each one and we are only able to pursue a fraction of them. The ACLU only handles claims which involve violations of civil liberties and civil rights.

Types of Cases the ACLU generally does NOT accept

The ACLU is not a general legal services organization and we normally cannot provide emergency services.  Unless there is a clear civil liberties violation, we generally do not accept:

  • Employment-related cases, unless there is a significant First Amendment issue or discrimination-related matter;
  • Landlord-Tenant cases, unless there is a significant First Amendment issue or discrimination-related matter;
  • Criminal cases
  • Family law cases (related to divorce, child custody, child support, etc);
  • Environmental law cases;
  • Property disputes;
  • Tax problems; or
  • Appeals of building code violations.

If You Are Already Represented By An Attorney

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 your attorney contact us if she or he feels that a constitutional issue is present and would like our assistance.

An Important Note About Deadlines.

All legal claims have deadlines, called statutes of limitation. The deadlines may be different depending on the type of claim, who violated your rights and which rights were violated. For some kinds of legal claims, you must file a claim with a government agency and complete their entire complaint process before you can sue.  These agencies have their own deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable statute of limitations, you may be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court.

Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that the ACLU represents you, and will not stop the statute of limitations from running.  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, which could take months.

The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult an attorney promptly to find out what deadlines may apply to your case.  Please understand that unless and until the ACLU agrees to take your case, you are solely responsible for any and all statutes of limitations or other deadlines that might apply to your specific situation.

 

SUBMITTING A LEGAL COMPLAINT

If you have read through all of the above and still feel that your case meets our criteria, you are welcome to submit your complaint.

The best way to get help is by completing our online form.

We do not currently take intake by phone or email. In-person interviews are generally not possible, although translators and ASL signers can be arranged.

The online form is the preferred way for you to submit your complaint. If there is absolutely no way for you to submit your complaint online, please complete the printable complaint form and mail it to: ACLU-VT, PO Box 277, Montpelier, VT 05601.

Puedo Conseguir Servicios En Español?

Si necesita comunicarse con un hispanohablante puede escribirnos a la siguiente dirección: ACLU-VT, PO Box 277, Montpelier, VT 05601.

 

What happens after submitting a complaint?

Our staff will review your complaint and we will advise you by e-mail or postal mail if we determine that your complaint does not meet these criteria.  Due to the very small size of our organization and the large number of complaints that we receive, our initial review of a complaint may take months to complete.

The ACLU generally pursues cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between individual parties. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are:

  1. Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue?
  2. What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
  3. Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?

Please note that receipt of your complaint does not imply any agreement to undertake representation on your behalf. If your matter is urgent, please seek private counsel.

There are many cases of unfairness and injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive hundreds of requests for help each year and cannot accept many of the cases that fall within the guidelines discussed above.

If you have additional questions, please review the following Frequently Asked Questions for more information.  THANK YOU for contacting the ACLU of Vermont.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Encounters With the Police

Q:    What should I do if I've been stopped by the police?

A:    See our complete answer -- whether you've encountered the police on the street, in a car, on in your home -- here. A printable version is available here [PDF], y en español aquí [PDF].

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Q:    I am not an American citizen. What if I am asked questions about my immigration status?

A:    See our complete answer.

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The Census

Q:    Do I have to answer census questions?

A:    See our Census FAQ on the web here.

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Christmas

Q:    Does the ACLU hate Christmas?

A:    Of course not. The American Civil Liberties Union takes seriously its commitment to defending the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by not only working to ensure that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion" but, just as importantly, by helping to guarantee that there be no "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The ACLU is often better known for its work preventing the government from promoting and funding selected religious activities, but that is only half our charge. By ensuring that the government refrains from promoting religion or any particular faith, the ACLU helps ensure that freedom of religion and belief remains an important principle of our democracy.

Christmas displays, for example, things like nativity displays, are perfectly acceptable at homes and churches. Religious expression -- during the holidays and throughout the year -- is a valued part of the First Amendment rights guaranteed all citizens. But government should never be in the business of endorsing things like religious displays. Religion is best served when the government plays no role in promoting any particular holiday or any individual religious tradition. That job is best suited for individuals, families and religious communities.

See ACLU's Christmas materials on the web.

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Q:    What kinds of holiday displays are permissible by government entities?

A:    See ACLU's Christmas materials here.

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Arrested and/or Charged With a Crime

Q:    I've been arrested and/or charged with a crime and I need a lawyer. Can you help me?

A:    If you meet certain income eligibility guidelines, you may qualify for the services of a court-appointed defense attorney.

If you have been charged with a state crime, you should contact the Defender General (Vermont's public defense agency) at the office nearest you.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, you should contact the Federal Defender's Vermont office.

If you do not qualify for a court-appointed defense attorney, you may wish to hire a private attorney to defend you. To find a criminal defense attorney in your area, you may wish to use the Vermont Bar Association's lawyer referral service, which can refer you to a private attorney who will speak with you for a reduced initial consultation fee.

In any case, you should feel free to contact us, but you should understand that we are generally unable to provide trial level criminal defense on account of our small size and narrow focus.

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Probation or Supervised Release

Q:    I'm on probation or supervised release in Vermont and I'm having a problem.

A:    If you are having difficulty on probation or supervised release, including questions about the conditions that you must comply with or questions about revocation, you should contact the attorney who represented you during your criminal trial. If you had assigned counsel provided by the Defender General or the Federal Defender, you should contact that attorney.

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Family Disputes

Q:    I am involved in a custody dispute, and a judge has awarded custody of my children to someone else. Can you help me?

A:    Generally, disputes between you and another person over the custody of your children is a private dispute, rather than a violation of your civil liberties by the government. If you disagree with a decision that a judge has made, the judge has not necessarily violated your civil liberties: your recourse is to appeal the judge's decision.

In any case, you should feel free to contact us, but you should understand that our work has a narrow focus on law reform.

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Q:    The State has started court proceedings to terminate my parental rights. Can you help me?

A:    If you meet certain eligibility guidelines, you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney; you should contact the nearest Defender General's office and inquire. If you do not meet eligibility guidelines, you may wish to hire a private attorney. See below for an explanation of how to locate a Vermont attorney.

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Q:    I am representing myself in family court. Is there any information online about how to do that?

A:    The Vermont judiciary has placed answers to commonly asked family court questions online here. It has also launched a website that can help you fill out common family court forms, like those used to start a divorce, and those used in parentage disputes.

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Voting and Elected Officials

Q:    How do I register to vote here in Vermont?

A:    The Vermont Secretary of State's website has excellent information explaining eligibility, registration procedure, and downloadable forms.

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Q:    I am a Vermonter, but I am incarcerated or will be reporting to prison soon. How do I vote from prison?

A:    Vermonters may vote in state and local elections while in prison by casting an absentee ballot through the mail. You should talk to your home town clerk about obtaining an absentee ballot, or see the Vermont Secretary of State's online information about absentee voting.

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Q:    Who are my elected officials?

A:    You can look up your local, state, and federal elected officials by entering your zip code here.

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Landlord / Tenant

Q:    I rent my home and am in a dispute with my landlord. Can you help me?

A:    The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity publishes a helpful guide for both landlords and tenants called Renting in Vermont that you might find useful. If, after consulting the guide, you believe that your situation is one that we can help with, feel free to contact us.

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Questions About Attorneys and Judges

Q:    I am looking to hire a lawyer but I don't know how to find one.

A:    You may wish to use the Vermont Bar Association's lawyer referral service, which can refer you to a private attorney who will speak with you for a reduced initial consultation fee.

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Q:    How can I find out if a particular person is licensed to practice law in Vermont?

A:    The Vermont judiciary is responsible for attorney licensing and discipline. The judiciary's attorney licensing program has a list of attorneys who are in good standing and permitted to practice law in Vermont on its website. The board places a periodically updated list of all such attorneys here. If you're looking to hire an attorney, you may also wish to check whether the attorney in question has any history of discipline by checking with the Professional Conduct Board. See below.

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Q:    How can I make a complaint about an attorney?

A:    The Vermont judiciary's Professional Conduct Board handles attorney discipline. Instructions and contact information is available on the Board's website.

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Q:    How can I make a complaint about a judge?

A:    The Vermont judiciary's Judicial Conduct Board handles complaints about judges. Information is available on the Board's website.

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  Sources of Law

Q:    Where can I read court decisions online?

A:    The availability of court decisions varies widely. Many decisions are published by the large online commercial legal research services LEXIS and Westlaw, but can be found elsewhere for free. Notably, Google Scholar provides some access to decisions here (enter your search term and click the "legal opinions and journals" button. Otherwise, decisions may be found as follows:

·         Vermont courts

·         The Vermont Superior Court -- civil, criminal, family, probate, and the judicial bureau (traffic court) divisions -- do not regularly report decisions through published volumes or a website, although civil division opinions are occasionally published online here and environmental division opinions are occasionally published online here. In addition, the Vermont Lawyer & Trial Court Reporter, (802) 226-7852, publishes some trial decisons of note.

·         The Vermont Supreme Court, Vermont's sole appellate court, has published its decisions online since 2003 here and here.

·         Vermont court rules are available online here.

·         United States courts

·         The United States District Courts (trial courts) report their decisions in the Federal Supplement printed volumes, in addition to online in a sporadic fashion on CourtWeb. Detailed docketing information about cases in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont are available on the court's CM/ECF docketing system, which charges a per-page fee to access documents (with the exception of decisions, which are free).

·         The United States Courts of Appeals, the federal courts' mid-level regional appellate courts, have begun to report their decisions online. The court covering the region including Vermont, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit, has followed suit and now places its most recent thirty days' decisions online. The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University has also made Courts of Appeals decisions dating from the mid-1990's to the present available online.

·         The United States Supreme Court publishes its opinions in the official United States Reports, in addition to making the most recent term's slip opinions online. The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University has also made United States Supreme Court decisions dating from 1990 to the present available online.

·         Federal court rules can be found online here.

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Public Records

Q:    Where can I learn more about public records laws?

A:    Vermont's public records law, governing records generated by the state of Vermont and any municipal government within Vermont, is codified at Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, §§ 315-317a. The Vermont Secretary of State has published a very dated, but reasonable introduction to the law, complete with instructions and a sample request letter.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), governs records generated by the United States government. The ACLU has created a comprehensive website that can guide you through making a FOIA request.

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Prison

Q:    What rights do prisoners have to receive publications by mail?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to publications by mail in prison here [PDF].

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Q:    What mail is privileged?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to privileged and non-privileged mail here [PDF].

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Q:    What rights do disabled prisoners have?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to disabled prisoners' rights here [PDF].

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Q:    How does the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) affect prisoners' litigation?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to the PRLA here [PDF].

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Q:    What rights do prisoners have against assault and excessive force?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to assault and excessive force in prison here. [PDF]

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Q:    What rights do prisoners have to medical, dental, and mental health care?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to health care in prison here. [PDF]

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Q:    What rights do pregnant prisoners have to health care?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to pregnancy related health care in prison here. [PDF]

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Q:    What rights do prisoners have with respect to discipline and sanctions in prison?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to discipline in prison here. [PDF]

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Q:    What rights do prisoners have to practice their religion?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to religious freedom in prison here. [PDF]

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Q:    What rights do prisoners have with respect to environmental hazards and toxics?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to environmental hazards and toxics here. [PDF]

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Q:    What restrictions may be placed upon visitation in prison?

A:    See the ACLU National Prison Project's guide to visitation here. [PDF]

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Q:    How can Vermont prisoners vote while imprisoned?

A:    See here.

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