George Zimmerman and State and Federal Prosecution: No Double Jeopardy, Contrary to the Opinions of Some
By Ken K. Gourdin
As most all fans of the United States Constitution (of whom I am one, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m always a fan of how courts interpret it) know, the Fifth Amendment says that “any person [shall not] be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” As anyone who has bothered to read recent posts on this blog also knows, I am not a fan of the state of Florida’s prosecution of George Zimmerman for his shooting of Trayvon Martin.
One correspondent with The Salt Lake Tribune, Jim Green opined, now that a jury has acquitted Zimmerman of all charges in his shooting of Martin (the jury apparently having found, amongst other things, that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is credible), that a subsequent federal prosecution of Zimmerman for violating Martin’s civil rights is barred by the above-quoted constitutional provision. See Green’s letter here, last accessed today: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/56607542-82/zimmerman-html-law-amdt.html.csp
As much as I hate to admit it, however, Green is wrong. The state of Florida and the United States government are separate sovereigns, so the constitutional prohibition of double jeopardy doesn’t bar a federal prosecution. And Zimmerman would be charged with a different crime. While the state of Florida charged him with murder, a federal prosecution would be for allegedly violating Martin’s civil rights by making him a target of racial animus. See my letter here, last accessed today: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/56617348-82/federal-double-jeopardy-html.html.csp
A federal civil rights prosecution presents a high bar to clear, especially since, as I noted in a previous post, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have reported, pursuant to an investigation by Sanford Fla. P.D. Detective Chris Serino, that there was no racial animus involved in the case. See here, last accessed today: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/living-with-unlikeable-verdicts/