Although George Zimmerman is now a free man following his recent acquittal, it is highly likely that in the near future he will once again find himself in a courtroom.
Zimmerman may be facing a lawsuit that could lead to a civil trial or a federal prosecution that could result in a civil rights trial. There is even a distinct possibility that he may have to face both.
Trayvon Martin’s parents are most likely looking at a number of legal alternatives that are available to them, which includes the consideration of whether or not to file a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman in civil court.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, actually told ABC's “This Week” that the Martins “are certainly going to look at that [a civil lawsuit] as an option.”
Trayvon’s mother and father have already sought redress in the civil courts. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the parents settled a wrongful death claim against the homeowners association of the subdivision where their son lost his life.
If a civil case is indeed brought against Zimmerman, it could be very different in its outcome than what eventuated in his criminal case.
In criminal cases, the burden of proof for the prosecution requires evidence that is sufficient enough for the jury to determine the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
However, in a civil case, the plaintiff (in this case, Trayvon Martin’s parents) must merely prove a “preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially is proof that the defendant’s liability is “more likely than not.”
Unlike in the criminal trial, if a civil trial should ensue Zimmerman will be required to testify under oath. The plaintiff’s counsel will then be able to cross-examine Zimmerman and thereby test his credibility, using previous statements that have been made to the media.
Moreover, due to the fact that in civil cases jurors are dealing with monetary damages rather than the deprivation of liberty or life, a jury very often experiences less difficulty in holding a defendant liable as opposed to guilty.
It is because of these inherent differences that we have seen civil trials in which the victim’s family prevails in the end, despite the defendant being one and the same and despite an acquittal of criminal charges in a previous trial. This was the case with regard to O.J. Simpson and additionally with Robert Blake, where a civil court jury found each of the respective defendants liable for the attendant killings, despite the not guilty verdicts in the previous criminal trials.
There is another issue that is likely to be raised by Zimmerman’s defense lawyers. A motion to dismiss the civil case could be made, based on Florida’s heavily discussed “stand your ground” law. In Florida, if a defendant successfully asserts a “stand your ground” defense and is acquitted, the defendant in question is granted immunity from a subsequent civil suit.
The problem for the Zimmerman lawyers is that the recently completed case is not really a “stand your ground” case, despite the persistent echoes in the media that it is.
Zimmerman's lawyers waived the pre-trial “stand your ground” hearing. The facts of the case lacked a “stand your ground” fact pattern, and prosecutor John Guy acknowledged as much when, while giving the rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument, he said, “This case is not about standing your ground.”
The only time the “stand your ground” law came up during the Zimmerman trial was when prosecutors sought to weaken Zimmerman's credibility by using the defendant’s statement to Fox News that Zimmerman had not heard of the “stand your ground” law prior to the shooting.
Meanwhile groups such as the NAACP and Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push are putting pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to bring federal civil rights charges.
The NAACP has posted a petition on its website that reads as follows: “The most fundamental of civil rights—the right to life—was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges.”
Civil rights charges were brought after a state criminal trial for the high profile Rodney King case. After three of the four police officers were acquitted of all charges, and the fourth police officer was let go due to a hung jury, federal prosecutors indicted all four officers on charges of violating King's civil rights. Two officers were ultimately found guilty and went to prison, while the other two were acquitted.
The Justice Department has been conducting an investigation into whether Zimmerman was motivated by race; this is the kind of investigation that normally precedes federal hate crime charges, and the investigation remains an ongoing one.
A recent statement that was issued by the Justice Department indicates the following: “The department continues to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial.”
With all of the legal possibilities that exist and the analogous cases that served as forerunners, the court proceedings surrounding Zimmerman are likely to extend into 2014 and perhaps even beyond.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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