Know Your Rights: Criminal Law

BASIC RIGHTS

Both citizens and non-citizens alike have rights under the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment gives every person the right to remain silent – that is, to not answer questions asked by a police officer or government agent. The Fourth Amendment restricts the government’s power to enter and search a person's home or workplace, although there are many exceptions and new laws have expanded the government’s power to conduct surveillance, as well as the authority for the police to search a person or belongings. The First Amendment protects a person's right to speak freely and to advocate for social change. These Constitutional rights are absolute, and cannot be suspended – even during wartime.1

OVERVIEW

There are numerous reasons that transgender persons are more susceptible to ending up in the criminal justice system. Due to widespread and pervasive systemic discrimination, transgender persons frequently experience relatively higher levels of unemployment, homelessness, lack of identification, lack of healthcare, gender policing, and exposure to violence or harassment. The intersection between race and class can add additional layers that make transgender persons a constant target of law enforcement professionals. According to a demographic study of men’s prisons in California, transgender inmates in men’s facilities are disproportionately Black and White, have higher representation in the 36-45 age range, are disproportionately incarcerated for crimes against property, tend to have higher levels of educational attainment than other inmates, are more likely to be unemployed one month before their arrest, are more likely to suffer Depression, mental health issues, or be HIV-positive (60-80%), and 20% report being homeless before their most recent incarceration.2 The intersection between race and class can add additional layers that make transgender persons a constant target of law enforcement professionals.


  1. Know Your Rights!: What to Do if Questioned by Police, FBI, Customs Agents or Immigration Officers, August 2004 California: National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, http://www.nlgsf.org/resources/, Last visited August 1, 2012. 

  2. Where the Margins Meet: A Demographic Assessment of Transgender Inmates in Men’s Prisons, University of California, Irvine’s Center for Evidence-Based Correction, Last visited August 1, 2012; see also Transgender Inmates in California’s Prisons: An Empirical Study of a Vulnerable Population, Presented by Valeria Jenness, Ph.D., Center for Evidence-Based Corrections, to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Wardens’ Meeting, April 2009, Last visited August, 1, 2012.