By the book
Eight compelling reasons for a federal prosecution of George Zimmerman
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson 07/31/2013
Since the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations publicly demanded that the US Justice Department conduct a probe of the Trayvon Martin slaying with a view toward bringing charges against the 17-year-old’s killer, George Zimmerman, volumes have been written about why the department could, should or would not prosecute Zimmerman.
Most argue that charging Zimmerman with committing a hate crime in the Martin killing won’t fly because there’s no basis for that from the evidence presented at trial.
However, there are eight reasons why the Justice Department can and should consider it a “compelling federal interest” to prosecute a defendant after a failed state prosecution, all of them clearly spelled out in the Justice Department’s guidelines, under the subsection “Initiating and Declining Charges — Substantial Federal Interest.”
1. Federal Law Enforcement Priorities. The Justice Department will prosecute only cases that it deems “are most deserving of federal attention.” A US Attorney has much discretion in determining the priorities for prosecuting a case and how a prosecution fits with those priorities. This means that Robert O’Neill, US Attorney for Florida’s Middle District, has the power to decide whether a Zimmerman prosecution deserves federal attention and does not violate the department’s established priorities.
2. The Nature and Seriousness of the Offense. The major factor in determining this factor is “the actual or potential impact of the offense on the community and on the victim.” The Justice Department spells out exactly what this means: economic harm to the community, physical danger to citizens and erosion of citizens’ peace of mind and security. Zimmerman’s acquittal squarely fits each of these criteria in terms of lasting damage to the community, erosion of confidence to secure the peace resulting from the state’s failed prosecution, and the danger of vigilantism established in the Zimmerman jury’s upholding of an individual’s right to use deadly force solely because they presume that their life is in danger. Further, the rules spell out that the circumstances of the offense, the identity of the offender and the odious publicity in the case that create strong public sentiment in favor of prosecution must be weighed. The Zimmerman acquittal fits all three circumstances.
3. Deterrent Effect of Prosecution. The goal here is to insure that criminal conduct not be encouraged or furthered by a failed prosecution. The right to kill or maim an individual based on the perpetrator’s perception of danger, as the department notes, would “commonly have a substantial cumulative impact on the community” if unpunished.
4. The Person’s Culpability. The department must judge that the accused has some culpability in the commission of an act. The one indisputable fact in the Martin slaying is that Zimmerman initiated the confrontation by targeting Martin as a “suspect” and then following him. This establishes Zimmerman’s clear culpability in the deadly chain of events that followed.
5. The Person’s Criminal History. Zimmerman has a criminal history. Both of his arrests — one for domestic violence and the other for resisting a police officer — involved violence. Federal prosecutors are duty-bound to consider that history in determining whether to initiate or recommend prosecution. Most importantly, they must determine whether prior violence has a relationship to the charged offense. Zimmerman’s offenses involved violence. Therefore, that fits with the rule that his past must be weighed in the decision to prosecute.
6. The Person’s Willingness to Cooperate. There is absolutely no hint that Zimmerman would cooperate in any federal probe into his conduct or actions that fateful night. Statements made by him and his attorneys following the acquittal have been marked by defiance, baiting of the prosecutor’s case, and even gloating at the acquittal.
7. The Person’s Personal Circumstances. The circumstances that may preclude against a prosecution are youth, old age, and mental or physical impairment. Zimmerman fits none of these. However, if federal prosecutors determine that the accused “occupied a position of trust or responsibility which he/she violated in committing the offense” this would be a strong factor in favor of a prosecution. Much was made of the fact that Zimmerman was at least at one time a sworn Neighborhood Watch captain. Though his status as a neighborhood guardian was dubious at best when he killed Martin, the strong presumption was that he acted as a neighborhood guardian — authorized or not.
8. The Probable Sentence. If Zimmerman had been convicted on any charge, no matter how minor, federal prosecutors almost certainly would not consider a prosecution. It would not justify the government’s time or resources. But the fact is he wasn’t convicted, so this is a non-factor in considering a federal prosecution.
The legion of Zimmerman defenders and legal naysayers of a federal prosecution have no need to read the actual federal guidelines that determine when federal prosecutors can or should bring a second prosecution. That’s because their goal is not to adhere to the actual provisions that govern a federal prosecution. Their goal is to spout their pro-Zimmerman legal biases. Federal prosecutors, however, have that duty. And these are eight compelling reasons why they must prosecute George Zimmerman.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new ebook is “America on Trial: The Slaying of Trayvon Martin” (Amazon). Hutchinson is an associate editor of New America Media and a weekly co-host of the “Al Sharpton Show” on American Urban Radio Network. He is also the host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KTYM 1460 AM Radio, KPFK 90.7 FM and the Pacifica Radio Network. Follow Earl on Twitter at http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.