Friday, March 23, 2012

Did George Zimmerman commit a federal crime?

There is quite a debate about whether Zimmerman can be charged federally for killing Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman was not a police officer or acting under color of law, so there is no federal jurisdiction there.  And the shooting did not occur on federal land and the victim was not a federal officer, so nothing there.  But, there is one statute that may apply: 18 U.S.C. 249, Hate Crime Acts, which was just enacted in 2009.  That statute provides:


(a) In General.— (1) Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.— Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—

(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if—
(i) death results from the offense; or
(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

In other words, if Zimmerman killed Martin because of his race, then he can be prosecuted under this section. 

There haven't been too many prosecutions under Section 249.  The internet reveals these two cases:

In May 2011, a man in Arkansas pled guilty under the Act to running a car containing five Hispanic men off the road. As a result, he became the first person ever convicted under the Act. A second man involved in the same incident was later convicted under the Act but has asked for a new trial.


In August 2011, one man in New Mexico pled guilty to branding a swastika into the arm of a developmentally disabled man of Navajo descent. A second man entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime. The two men were accused of branding the victim, shaving a swastika into his head, and writing the words "white power" and the acronym "KKK" on his body. A third man in June 2011, entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime. All three men were charged under the Act in December of 2010.
 These cases seem much clearer cut than Zimmerman's for a federal prosecution.  I'm not a prosecutor, but it seems to me that the Stand Your Ground defense would be much easier to get over for the State than attempting to prove intent under the Hate Crimes Act.  Based on the 911 call and the other publicly known facts, I'm not sure how this is a Stand Your Ground case...

There have been two local Stand Your Ground/Self Defense cases in the news recently.  The Herald covered this one yesterday and the O'Donnells just got a hung jury in Key West on this case where a young man stabbed someone during Fantasy Fest. 

Okay, you guys are probably ready for me to get back to Paris Hilton....


17 comments:

Anonymous said...

How can it be lawful for someone to hunt down an unarmed teenager and shoot him, then claim to have acted in self-defense? That's insane, but perhaps not much less crazy than the laws that allowed Mr. Zimmerman to carry a gun while he tooled around the neighborhood looking for "suspicious" characters. He was a loose cannon who took the law into his own hands, and his particular kind of lunacy will continue to happen unless the law is changed.

Stand Your Ground" = “license-to-murder.”

Anonymous said...

Nowhere in this law does it say that if somebody looks suspicious you can pursue them, confront them, and then shoot them. You cannot pursue a fight, start a fight, then claim self defense when you shoot someone.

Anonymous said...

The federal hate crime law sounds like an interesting option, but besides the issue with proving intent, I wonder what the jurisdictional basis is for such a crime. The 14th amendment? Also, I am a little rusty with this area of law, but couldn't the Feds pursue a prosecution for murder based on extraterritorial jurisdiction because the victim is a federal citizen? From what I remember, Congress must exhibit an intent for extraterritorial application in the statute, but if I remember correctly, that is not always the case. Either way, I would find it a bit unnerving if the Feds took that route considering the concept of federalism. However, based on the public information, this does not sound like a case where self-defense applies, and the Stand Your Ground law really has no fault for what occurred here.

Anonymous said...

The comments and press so far are strange indeed since the results of a formal investigation have not been released. Already, attorney claims of two shots have been discredited by the gun itself, that only had one shot fired.
If what Mr. Zimmerman claims is correct — that he was attacked first (and has a bloody nose and other indications in support) — then we have a tragic case of a zealous citizen (still operating within the law) asking someone about his presence in a gated private community (certainly not against the law), being then attacked by a 17 year hold high school football player who felt insulted (and who, if Mr. Zimmerman is correct, was beating up Mr. Zimmerman) let his testosterone get the better of him, you have a case that squarely meets the Florida "stand your ground" law. Blame the law not the results of the law.

Anonymous said...

Jeb Bush should be prosecuted along with Zimmerman. Jeb signed this bad law into effect. Jeb's credibility as Republican standard bearer should not be left undamaged here.

CAPTAIN said...

THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:

BREAKING NEWS ... GOODMAN GUILTY

Palm Beach County jury finds John Goodman, represented by famed criminal defense lawyer Roy Black, GUILTY of DUI Manslaughter and GUILTY of Vehicular Homicide.

Judge tells both sides to see if they can agree on a sentence. Otherwise, Judge will set a sentencing date and pass sentence.

Judge denies bail and takes defendant into custody.

More at 6 .....

Cap Out .....

Friday, March 23, 2012 1:55:00 PM

Anonymous said...

any obvious trial mistakes we can learn from?

Anonymous said...

Tragic case-- a teenager is shot and killed but we mustn't use mob mentality.

Anonymous said...

Depriving Trayvon Martin of his civil rights would fall under the jurisdiction of the feds, and apparently the Justice Department is investigating just that angle of the case. ... It's not a sexy federal crime per se, but for my money it will carry more weight than the federal hate crime statute. ... I do wonder whether the feds could challenge Stand Your Ground on such constitutional grounds, perhaps in finding the state law written too broadly to adequately protect citizens' civil rights.

Anonymous said...

what, not covering black's loss on a dui case? 11 years.....harsh plea

Anonymous said...

I think that a lot of professionals, reporters, attorneys, Congressmen and women including Eric Holder and President Obama will wish that they had not made comments on the Zimmerman case when the facts of the case are finally released. You, just like Sharpton, the Black Panthers, media, and racist bloggers are talking totally off the top of your head with absolutely no facts to back up anything that you are saying. As a resident of Orlando, I lived through the Casey Anthony trial which was turned into a media and attorney circus which resulted in NO justice for an innocent child. I predict that Zimmerman will walk and we can again thank the media for that. It has already been said by the new DA that the case will most likely NOT go to the grand jury. Norman Wolfinger refused to file charges for manslaughter. He is an esteemed DA with many years of experience. If there was enough evidence to prosecute Zimmerman, the charges would have been brought immediately. There will be No civil rights case, no hate crimes case here!

Anonymous said...

The father of George Zimmerman is Robert J. Zimmerman, Retired Virgina Magistrate Judge.

Mike Masinter said...

The jurisdictional basis for the crime is the thirteenth amendment; Congress has the power to ban the badges and incidents of servitude without regard to the presence or absence of state action. See Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968) and Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976). That's why the hate crime statute is restricted to race, color, religion, or national origin (but not sex); race as understood in the nineteenth century extended to religion and national origin, as SCOTUS held in St. Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604 (1987) (national origin) and Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987) (religion). Because sex is not race, the power to regulate the badges and incidents of servitude doesn't extend to sex motivated conduct, and Congress lacks the power to regulate sex motivated violence absent state action or a defendant who crosses a state line per United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000).

Anonymous said...

When asked the 911 operator asked Zimmerman if the person he was reporting was White, Hispanic or Black Zimmerman replies after a pause "I THINK he's black." Then when Matrin walks closer to the truck that Zimmerman was sitting in Zimmerman states "Yea He's Black" So he didn't know what race the person he was reporting was initially. Now if the person whom he thought was acting suspeciously had been White, does anyone REALLY think he would have said. Oh wait he's acting suspecious, but he's white so it's OK. Tell the police they don't have to come out? How does race enter into this at all?

Anonymous said...

George Zimmerman can be prosecuted for under federal law for 'deprivation of rights under color of law.' This term refers to any incident where a police officer, government official, security guard, or other authority figure use their authority to take away someone's rights. The crime warrants up to life imprisonment when a death occurs, and Florida's 'stand your ground' laws have no bearing on a federal civil rights prosecution. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/federal-statutes#section242

Conrad kohrs said...

Zimmerman was not a "security guard" under the "color of law" requirement of the federal criminal civil rights statute;matter of fact he was fired from his job as a security guard. The ONLY way the Feds (DOJ/Holden) may prosecute him is if there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he shot Martin because he was Black(hate crime part of federal statute).Any local DOJ prosecutor who is ordered by Obama/Holden to prosecute based on the race evidence in the state trial would tell his/her bosses to go to hell...and the still ongoing federal investigation in this regard could not possibly have additional race hate evidence because it is ALL on tape and any Federal Judge would throw such a case out anyway if the Feds did file! Attorney Kohrs

Polensicsview said...

I don't see how the federal "hate" crime statute is constitutional - despite the recitals pertaining to race, religion etc. - where everything is entirely local and there is no connection with anything interstate or otherwise federal in nature. I don't think the neighborhood watch makes him an "authority figure acting under color of law" because he had no power to arrest, detain, etc. He was no more an authority figure walking down the street than was Trayvon. Also, let's stop speaking of Trayvon as though he was a baby or was as pure as the driven snow. We try teens as adults all the time, and there were a lot of facts kept out of evidence that showed Trayvon as a want-to-be MMA fighter who was a persistent disciplinary problem at school and at home.