Even though the cops were acquitted in the Rodney King trial, two of them still faced prison time for Federal crimes. Zimmerman could still face federal charges if Obama wants to.
George Zimmerman may face federal charges. Because in America–while we think you can’t be charged for the same crime twice–there really is double jeopardy, in the form of federal charges. And if you think Barack Obama–who said if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin–hasn’t instructed his Justice Department to consider it, think again.
The other day, reader David Makowsky asked me about this and whether I thought that Eric Holder would go after Zimmerman on federal charges. It’s certainly possible. They could go after him for the nebulous, baloney “crime” of “violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.” There is a lot of unfortunate precedent for this.
As I’ve noted on this site, that’s what happened, after April 29, 1992, when four police officers were acquitted by a Simi Valley, California jury in the beating of repeat convicted felon Rodney King, who resisted arrest. Then-President George H.W. Bush, upset over the race riots in South Central Los Angeles, spurred by the verdict, decided to give into the rioters, just like a Stockholm Syndrome afflicted hostage gives into and sympathizes with his captors. And the police officers, already acquitted by a jury of their peers, faced federal charges. Two of the four police officers, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, were convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison.
And it’s not the first time this kind of thing happened. There’s also the Vincent Chin case.
On June 23, 1982, two drunk men, one of them a supervisor at an auto plant (and the other his stepson), spotted Chin at a Detroit strip club, Fancy Pants. They mistook him for Japanese (as his surname indicates, he was Chinese), and held him responsible for American autoworkers losing their jobs, as the flood of cheap Japanese cars that came into America in the early ’80s led to a big down period in the American auto industry. And they beat Chin to death, after he left the strip club, and they paid someone to find him. The two men, Ronald Ebens and stepson Michael Nitz, were charged with second degree murder but convicted of manslaughter, pursuant to a plea deal. They were sentenced to three years of probation and served no jail time.
But after outrage by the Asian American community, the Reagan Administration pursued federal charges against the two men through the Justice Department. Both were charged with violating Chin’s civil rights. Nitz was acquitted, but Ebens was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. That conviction and sentence were overturned after the Court of Appeals found that Reagan Justice Department officials improperly coached a witness. When Ebens was retried in Ohio, he was acquitted.