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Making claims under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution

A New Mexico court found you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal offense, and now you face incarceration in one of the state's prisons. While you may find that the law curtails some of your rights due to your conviction, some of them do not go away simply because you are spending time behind bars.

For example, your right to freedom from "cruel and unusual" punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution does not go away, and authorities cannot restrict it in any way due to your incarceration. In fact, some would say that this becomes one of your most important rights due to your situation.

Does the nature of your confinement violate your rights?

The state may have the right to confine you, but it must also ensure that the conditions under which that happens are humane. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast definition of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It often depends on the circumstances, but the following guidelines exist when it comes to the conditions under which you live in prison:

  • Prison employees must be aware that a danger exists that puts you in harm's way.
  • Employees take no steps to fix the problem.
  • As a result of the above, the prison system violated your rights.

You need to know that mere negligence is not enough to substantiate this type of civil rights claim. You must prove that the prison's employees from the guards up to the warden exhibited deliberate indifference to your conditions.

Does the nature of your treatment violate your rights?

In addition, correctional officers' treatment of you must also meet constitutional standards. The courts recognize that physical force may be required in order to maintain order and safety within prison walls. However, when that force crosses the line from appropriate into excessive, you may have a claim. When a court reviews your circumstances, they focus less on the injuries you suffered and more on the circumstances that led to them, such as the following:

  • Did the officers act in good faith?
  • Did the correctional staff act in efforts to restore order?
  • Did one or more officers harm you with sadistic or malicious intent?

The answers to these questions will dictate whether the courts believe the prison system and its employees violated your rights.

How do you make an Eighth Amendment claim?

Before you can file a lawsuit alleging a violation of your Eighth Amendment rights, you must go through the prison system's administrative process. If you still do not receive the relief you believe you are due, filing a lawsuit may be appropriate. Many claims do not make it past the administrative process due to a lack of knowledge of the process by the person filing them.

If you believe authorities violated your rights, you may increase your chances of receiving the outcome you deserve by working with an experienced civil rights attorney.

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McGraw & Strickland, LLC
165 West Lucero Ave.
Las Cruces, NM 88005

Phone: 575-567-3107
Fax: 575-680-1200
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