In his case, it’s possible the Justice Department might consider using a different type of civil-rights law: the federal hate-crime statute. As in the King case, the double-jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit such a federal prosecution in the wake of Zimmerman’s state acquittal, because it’s a different jurisdiction. But legal experts said it’s going to be a formidable challenge for Attorney General Eric Holder to press forward with a hate-crime case against Zimmerman under U.S. civil rights laws, because Florida jurors found Zimmerman not guilty of both second-degree murder and manslaughter in Trayon’s death.
Jurors found that prosecutors failed to prove the more serious second-degree charge that Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman at a Sanford gated community, possessed “ill-will,” “hatred” or “spite” in the fatal shooting of Martin. Instead, the six female jurors found that Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
Consequently, experts said, it would be legally inconsistent for the Justice Department to consider filing criminal charges against Zimmerman under the federal Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Generally, that law prohibits someone from “willfully causing bodily injury” to another person because of his race, color, religion or national origin.
“If the state jury had been persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman caused bodily harm to Trayvon Martin because of Martin’s race, it would have almost certainly convicted Zimmerman of second-degree murder, which requires proof of ‘ill-will’ or ‘malice,’” said Scott Srebnick, a prominent federal criminal defense attorney in Miami. “So, to bring a federal civil-rights prosecution against Zimmerman, the attorney general would essentially be second-guessing the state jury’s verdict as opposed to vindicating a different or broader federal interest.”