George Zimmerman has been acquitted, but his legal difficulties may not be over. A civil suit remains possible.
In a civil suit against Zimmerman, the plaintiff would not be required to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, the plaintiff could force Zimmerman to testify.
Even so, Alan Dershowitz, who followed the criminal case closely, isn’t sure “where you’ll find a lawyer who is prepared to bring [a suit], because it has very little chance of success.”
One place where we might find such a lawyer is in Eric Holder’s Department of Justice. Indeed, the Justice Department, which already has fanned the flames against Zimmerman, now says it will continue its own investigation.
Dershowitz believes that the DOJ will not pursue a case against Zimmerman. He also believes that, if it does bring a case, the case will not succeed.
I agree on the second point. One does not violate any federal law, including the civil rights laws, by shooting someone in self defense. And the evidence that Zimmerman acted in self-defense is strong enough that he should be able to prevail under the standard of proof applicable in a civil case.
Zimmerman also broke no federal law by following Trayvon Martin in furtherance of the former’s neighborhood patrol role. One should never underestimate the creativity of over-zealous civil rights lawyers, but I doubt there is a plausible theory under which it can maintained that Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights as defined by federal law.
It was no accident that the prosecution in the criminal case backed away from the theory that Zimmerman acted out of racial animus. There is no evidence that he did; nor any evidence that Zimmerman, who has mentored African-American children, holds such animus.
Let’s also keep in mind the fact of the jury’s verdict in the state case. The Justice Department acknowledged this complication when it said it will examine “whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.”
But none of this means that Holder’s DOJ won’t bring a case against Zimmerman. It would be nice to believe, as Dershowitz seems to, that Holder is simply trying to appease the race-mongers in the aftermath of a verdict they hate, and that ultimately he will let the matter fade.
That’s a plausible scenario. But the race-mongers won’t so easily be appeased. Moreover, the DOJ contains more than its share of them. Thus, a scenario in which DOJ comes out of the shadows and takes the lead in the further persecution of George Zimmerman is also plausible.