Zimmerman May Face Federal Civil Rights Charges, Civil Suit

By:  Jack Kenny
Zimmerman May Face Federal Civil Rights Charges, Civil Suit

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, acquitted Saturday in a Florida court of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, may yet face criminal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice for civil rights violations in the February 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

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.

The jury's decision to acquit Zimmerman of all charges set off a wave of demonstrations throughout the country by people and organizations claiming the shooting was racially motivated and the verdict an injustice. A criminal charge or charges could be brought against Zimmerman in federal court, despite the Fifth Amendment ban in the U.S. Constitution on trying a defendant twice for the same offense. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, starting with United States v. Lanza in 1922, that the "dual sovereignty" of state and federal governments permits the trial of a defendant by both state and federal governments for the same act, since the act may be an offense against each sovereignty. Some of the police officers acquitted by a Los Angeles jury in 1992 in the videotaped beating of runaway motorist Rodney King, for example, were later convicted and sentenced in federal court for violating King's civil rights.

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