FBI investigating possible hate-crime charges in Zimmerman/Martin case?

This really isn’t news, and it’s almost certainly not being reported accurately, but it’s worth reviewing nonetheless:


WFTV has learned charges against George Zimmerman could be getting more serious.

State prosecutors said Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, profiled and stalked 17-year-old Trayvon Martin before killing him, so the FBI is now looking into charging him with a hate crime.

The WFTV headline is less ambiguous, and more incorrect:’ “FBI may charge George Zimmerman with hate crime.”  The FBI doesn’t charge people with crimes; they investigate crimes on behalf of the Department of Justice (as well as conduct intelligence operations, but that’s not germane to this issue anyway).  The US Attorney for the region would have to charge Zimmerman with a hate crime, and that would likely be Robert O’Neill, US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida.

The fact that the FBI is conducting an investigation into possible hate-crime charges isn’t news.  The Department of Justice announced weeks ago that they would investigate the case for a potential hate crime; the FBI is the appropriate agency for the investigation.  Their presence doesn’t indicate that charges will be filed or are likely to be filed.  It just means that they’re conducting an investigation and will report any evidence to the US Attorney.

As the video report notes, it will be difficult to present charges of a hate crime in this case.  First, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, it’s going to be difficult to argue that Zimmerman deliberately and maliciously “stalked” Martin while calling the police about him.  Second, as the legal analyst notes, hate crimes are based on states of mind — and Zimmerman’s own heritage and history would make it extremely difficult to argue that the defendant acted out of a hateful malice based on Martin’s ethnicity.  That doesn’t mean the US Attorney night not try to make the case, but given the incendiary and controversial nature of the case, most prosecutors wouldn’t roll the dice on those kinds of odds.

Of course, the investigation might well turn up enough evidence to warrant those charges.  We’ll know soon enough without baseless speculation at this point.

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