Federal Criminal Charges Against George Zimmerman Face High Hurdle

Federal Criminal Charges Against George Zimmerman Face High Hurdle

The Department of Justice faces a very high hurdle if it gives into demands that George Zimmerman face federal criminal charges for violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.

There are only two statutes which would apply in any federal criminal case, 18 U.S.C 245 and 18 U.S.C. 249. Unfortunately for advocates of federal charges, both statutes require that Zimmerman acted with a racial motive. 

Under Section 245, the Justice Department has successfully advanced a public streets theory, that merely walking around in public is a protected constitutional right. Those who are motivated by race and attack victims who are merely walking around in public violate Section 245, the theory goes.

Section 249 is a more explicit law. It criminalizes violence “because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” Again, Zimmerman will need to have acted “because” of racial bias against Martin for federal charges to be brought.

During the trial, no evidence of racial motivation emerged. The FBI has concluded there is no evidence of Zimmerman acting based on racial motivation. 

Groups agitating for federal charges, however, are not dissuaded. They are firmly convinced that Zimmerman acted out of racial malice and thus can be expected to continue to push for federal charges.

The Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents will be less likely to bring charges when no evidence of racial intent has emerged. Whether or not Eric Holder overrules them and forces a grand jury presentation remains to be seen.


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