On July 13, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin. Despite being found not guilty of criminally killing Martin, Zimmerman faces an uncertain and dangerous future. Before the verdict was announced, radical groups were calling for riots and for personal attacks on Zimmerman.
In the wake of his acquittal, Zimmerman now faces another threat to his freedom and his future.
Zimmerman could also face a civil trial if Martin's family brings a wrongful death suit against him for the fatal shooting that Zimmerman's lawyers successfully argued in the criminal trial was a matter of self-defense.
The Justice Department has said it is investigating the case, and Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, said the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization has urged the department to bring criminal charges against Zimmerman, who was born to a white father and Hispanic mother, for allegedly violating the civil rights of Martin, an African-American.
There is a problem with such a scenario. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Millions of Americans would see such federal charges as an example of double jeopardy, and a politicized prosecution to boot.”
While many Americans have a workable understanding of this critical concept, a more thorough examination of double jeopardy may help explain why the Founding Fathers included protection from it in the Bill of Rights.
An article in the Long Island Newsday presents the problem in a nutshell:
The U.S. Justice Department, which opened an investigation into the George Zimmerman case Sunday, could charge him with federal civil rights violations, local attorneys said.
While a Florida jury found neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, a federal probe would examine whether he violated Martin's civil rights when he fatally shot him Feb. 16, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.
To prove such violations requires a different standard of evidence and law than what was used in the state case against Zimmerman. So a federal prosecution would not be double jeopardy, they said.
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