Federal civil rights trial for George Zimmerman would face high hurdles for prosecution

Legal experts question if race was a factor

SANFORD, Fla. - Tampa Attorney Norman Harris joined the rallies in Sanford, Florida last year demanding George Zimmerman be arrested and tried in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

But unlike the protestors angrily denouncing the not guilty verdict this week, Harris believes the system worked and justice was done.

"If there are issues that require a motion for retrial or an appeal, then by all means that's the proper response," said Harris, a practicing defense lawyer.

But instead of a criminal retrial, hundreds of thousands of petitioners on websites like MoveOn.Org, the NAACP, even the White House are demanding the Federal Government hold a new trial to convict George Zimmerman of violating Trayvon Martin's Civil rights.

"There is reason to be concerned that race was a factor in why he targeted young Trayvon," said NAACP President Ben Jealous early this week.

If the Federal Government prosecutes Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights, they'd have to prove that Zimmerman killed Martin primarily because of his race, a high hurdle considering even State prosecutors conceded race was not a factor in the case.

"I would be extremely surprised if the attorney General moved forward with a federal civil rights claim," said Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Joe Friedberg.

There is precedence.  When a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King in the 90s, riots destroyed whole neighborhoods. The justice department then filed civil rights charges and got convictions against two officers. 

The burden of proof is different, but legal experts believe if the U.S. Attorney General decides to file a civil right case against George Zimmerman, he will come up against many of the same obstacles as Florida's state prosecutors.

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