Double Jeopardy For Zimmerman May Be Double Jeopardy For Everyone

Following the unjust verdict in the George Zimmerman case, the Justice Department has toyed with the idea to continue its suspended investigation into the possibility of classifying the crime as a Hate Crime and mayexplore the option of trying Zimmerman in a Federal Court. As it turns out, the case that was being held was a criminal case as prosecuted by the State of Florida, and the Federal Government seems to think that it has strong enough grounds to try Zimmerman again on a different list of charges. This is a highly controversial move to make, and one has to wonder why the investigation wasn’t pursued concurrently with the criminal investigation—perhaps the Attorney General’s office was confident in the State’s ability to convict Zimmerman in the slaying of Martin; or perhaps in an uncharacteristic move the Obama Administration was being respectful of State’s rights and Jurisdictions. It could be that, as Eric Holder as stated, it would be hard to prove. Regardless of the actual reasons for the State standing down during Florida’s investigation and trial, the fact that they are now pursuing charges against Zimmerman has many wondering if this course of action is a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against Double Jeopardy.

As many of you know already, Double Jeopardy is the practice of being tried more than once for the same offense. The Conservative pundits are already starting to describe the Fifth’s particular wording against this kind of practice, while the Conservatives themselves are trying to “encourage” the enraged and pained masses to “move on” and to expend their energy elsewhere to make the streets safe. While such “encouragements” are being received (and rightfully so) as a slap in the face, and something sharper than a backhanded suggestion the question of Double Jeopardy is certainly a valid one and leaves those of us who are heartbroken and appalled with the justice system’s acquittal of Zimmerman with a philosophical and legal dilemma.

You see, if trying Zimmerman under Hate Crime violations for the same single act—in this case the shooting death (murder) of Trayvon Martin—is a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights then we are embarking on a slippery slope that could be used against minority communities and otherwise disenfranchised people when the verdict goes against the tides of popular opinion or the desires of the Government. In the United States the Prosecution cannot appeal a decision made in court, that is a right reserved only for the Defendant, except in the case of mistrial or some other procedural error. If the country were to go about changing that particular aspect of American Justice, even then it couldn’t be applied to George Zimmerman because it would be retroactive to the event and initial charge and trial. Other countries do allow for the State to appeal verdicts, but in so many better or worse ways America is not other countries.

What really concerns me, in this particular case, is that if changing the charge for a single act that was already beaten in court is paramount to Double Jeopardy then that is a very dangerous precedent for the Government to take. While those of us who are incredibly outraged and thirsty for legal justice against Zimmerman may be initially thrilled to see him tried and convicted in this way, we must ask ourselves what this means for other young men and women who are able to beat charges in court. What happens when this is turned against young men and women wrongfully accused of crimes who rightfully beat the charges and find themselves slammed with a litany of new charges and interpretations against the same act until something sticks.

There is a Supreme Court allowance in this in the 1932 case of Blockburger v. United States, which state that the Government may try for two crimes on the same act if the crimes contain markedly separate elements, and there is a precedent for this to occur after conviction in Grady v. Corbin of 1990, but Grady was in fact overturned in 1993 in US v. Dixon. It should be made clear however, that these cases don’t really address the particular issues of the Zimmerman case, but rather are an outlining that this isn’t the first time the government has attempted to find a way around the Fifth Amendment. What this legal history really means is that there is a narrow window of legality for the Justice Department to take this course of action, but only if they can somehow manage to make a strong enough distinction between Hate Crimes violence and Murder in the Second Degree or Manslaughter (probably as defined by the State of Florida).

If they cannot make a strong distinction, and manage to convict Zimmerman, not only will there be a painfully long appeals process, that will likely find it’s way before the Supreme Court it leaves two very unsavory likely rulings at the end. The first is that Zimmerman’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated (and probably his Seventh too) which would make him even more the hero to racists and Conservatives everywhere. The other would then be that the Government acted legally, and it opens the door to court persecution the likes of which this country has never seen before, with a legal precedent that is actually lauded by the communities the finding could be utilized against.

In light of this, it is a very dangerous task the Justice Department has undertaken. I am not entirely confident in Eric Holder’s department as I have seen little from them in the past to inspire great esteem in the face of Conservative opposition, and in some cases (Fast and Furious, for example) reasonable foresight in planning out operations at all. That is not to say that there isn’t competence enough in the Department to pull it off, though—after all you don’t get appointed to the office or get a job in the Department of Justice without having serious legal chops. The issue, and question is, in the face of the series of consequences and the concern of the legality of the course of action at large…which is the greater cause of justice? George Zimmerman behind bars, at the cost of a terribly sharp double edged sword, a continued and clear definition of Double Jeopardy? I can’t say, but I will certainly keep my eyes and ears open as the investigation develops.



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  1. Wow. I have been ao outraged that I did not even consider the possibilities you raised here. As short sighted as this may seem, I still support the Justice Department pursuing charges against Zimmerman. I just hope that they can do it in a way that does negatively impact our community for generations to come.

  2. I agree with Marc, they shouldn’t pursue it.
    But I disagree with this “Following the unjust verdict in the George Zimmerman case”
    what about it was unjust? that you didn’t like the result? the man was arrested, tried and won…the state didn’t prove their case as required by law. In this country you can kill someone in self defense…it was on the state, which represents the people, to prove that it wasn’t self defense. They didn’t…they had circumstantial evidence but nothing to remove doubt. They should have never even gone to trial with it. They went to trail because the public wanted one and that in itself was a disservice to the system because now more people can see the emperor has no clothes. Like I said before if Zimmerman was poor or black he would have pleaded out and gone to jail. But media attention is what got him that good lawyer who said “we can win this, they don’t have enough” and that’s why you got the trial…if his lawyer thought that they were in trouble Zimmerman would have made a deal to do less time.

  3. I think this is extremely well written, and quite logical. The legal system must be given faith. The charges brought against him were impossible to prove. That’s the fault of the prosecution, not the jury. As far as saying that he would be a hero for racists and conservatives everywhere – I resent the grouping. Not everyone who was happy with the verdict is a conservative, nor a racist. Some just looked at the facts presented, and saw a picture that showed an acquittal was necessary. Please refrain from generalizations. 🙂

  4. Marge, thank you for your thoughtful comment, I apologize for any offense. The meaning is not to associate the two as the same but rather as groups who would generally find themselves recognized by further vindication of Zimmerman to a point of gloating, not to a point of legal satisfaction.

    Fausto, thank you as well. When I say unjust it is because I feel that when an adult slays a minor there should be a consequence, especially in the case of a law that is so I consistently defense as “stand your ground”.

    Miz, thank you as well. Of you can come up with one I can think of more than a few people who are eager to hear it.

  5. “Fausto, thank you as well. When I say unjust it is because I feel that when an adult slays a minor there should be a consequence, especially in the case of a law that is so I consistently defense as “stand your ground”.”

    But Stand Your Ground wasn’t invoked as a defense. That turned out to be a non issue once he was arrested, charged and tried. It was an issue only in the beginning because they let him go like it was an open and shut case.

  6. So his self defense claim ten, was not rooted in test and you ground law? I do not think that is the case. Even if so, his self defense claim is without warrant because he was instigating by stalking and making Trayvon paranoid (paranoia is an assumption, because he can’t explain his actions, but what else could you use an explanation?). In either event, the event occurred because Zimmerman set events in motion when he pursued Martin outside of his car. The jury did not see it that way, and I accept its decision as final in the matter of murder 2 and manslaughter, but I don’t have to consider it just…only binding

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