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Image: WSJ: Civil Rights Charges Against Zimmerman 'Double Jeopardy'

WSJ: Civil Rights Charges Against Zimmerman 'Double Jeopardy'

Monday, 15 Jul 2013 12:33 PM

By Dan Weil

The Justice Department shouldn't file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, as millions of Americans would view such a case as double jeopardy, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.

For the government to win a case against Zimmerman on civil rights charges "would require proof that Mr. Zimmerman was motivated by racial animus, when the record shows little more than a reference by Mr. Zimmerman to 'punks' in a comment to a police dispatcher," Journal editors write.

The Justice Department said on Sunday that it is considering such a case after Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

"Millions of Americans would see such federal charges as an example of double jeopardy, and a politicized prosecution to boot. In this context, it was good to see Mr. Obama's statement Sunday that 'we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,'" the editorial says.

The broader question of how society, especially the police, treats young black males merits attention and frequently receives it, according to the editorial.

"There is no doubt that many law-abiding black men are eyed suspiciously in some quarters because they are black," the editorial states. "The motivation may sometimes be racial.  But such a discussion also cannot exclude that the main victims of crimes committed by young black men are other blacks."

In New York City, for example, the "stop-and-frisk" rule prevents more minority-on-minority crimes in their own neighborhoods, according to Journal editors.

"Zimmerman made many mistakes that February evening, not least failing to heed police advice not to pursue Martin," the editorial says. As a result, he will have to worry about the possibility of a civil suit and, more ominously, the threat of a revenge killing, Journal editors write.

"If there is any satisfaction in his acquittal, it is that the jurors followed the law's requirements that every defendant deserves a fair trial, even one who becomes a symbol of our polarized racial politics."

For more than 40 years the Justice Department has pursued civil-rights charges against defendants who were previously acquitted in state cases, The Associated Press reports. That includes the Rodney King case of 1992.

A civil rights suit against Zimmerman wouldn't be a easy in any case, experts say. "The Justice Department would face significant challenges in bringing a federal civil-rights case against Mr. Zimmerman," Alan Vinegrad, the former U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, told the Associated Press.

"There are several factual and legal hurdles that federal prosecutors would have to overcome. They’d have to show not only that the attack was unjustified, but that Mr. Zimmerman attacked Mr. Martin because of his race," Vinegrad said.


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