A federal case could be brought against neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman, experts say, even though he already has been acquitted on state second-degree murder charges.
But the chances of success are limited and such a move could be seen as being politically motivated, those experts have told WND.
The 5th Amendment to the Constitution says, in part, “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
Officials with Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department have not formally announced whether they will pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.
But the questions about double jeopardy already are being discussed.
Pete Lepiscopo, a constitutional law attorney, says that the federal government can try someone again for a case already decided in state court.
“If the U.S. Attorney General empanels a federal grand jury to seek violations of federal criminal statutes based on violations of Mr. Martin’s civil rights, this would not constitute double jeopardy under the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
He said that “this is because each sovereign (e.g., federal, state or Indian reservation government) is free to bring criminal charges against the same defendant for the same set of facts.”
He explains, “Double jeopardy is violated when the same sovereign brings a second set of charges against the same defendant based on the same set of facts.”
So, for example, if Florida would bring new criminal charges against Zimmerman for the same set of facts on which the jury determined Zimmerman was not guilty, then “that would be double jeopardy.”
Under common law, the Constitution might read differently. But the courts have changed that over time.
According to Nick Kasoff, who has studied this case in depth, the federal government actually have two options. One is to prosecute Zimmerman on a civil rights charge. The other is that they could prosecute him for the very same thing as the state did.
According to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School, “Double jeopardy protects defendants only for retrials brought within the original jurisdiction, which is why a defendant can be tried in federal court after being tried in state court.”