ACLU.2.0: ACLU Shifts Position On Civil Rights Action Against Zimmerman

American_Civil_Liberties_Union_logoZimmermanx-inset-communityThe American Civil Liberties Union seems a bit less unified in the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal. I remain a huge admirer of the ACLU and its inspiring legacy in fighting for civil liberties in America. I also have great respect for ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. However, the divisions evident on this civil liberties blog appears equally represented in that civil liberties institution. To the surprise of many, including myself, Romero sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that seemed to clearly invite a civil rights or hate crime prosecution of George Zimmerman. The ACLU however has long taken the view that such prosecutions violate the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution. When the federal government does not like the outcome of a high-profile case, it can use the very same facts to bring another prosecution under a different crime. After sending the letter, however, the ACLU staff appear to have objected and sent out a conflicting position that such successive prosecutions are violative of constitutional principles.

As noted in the article below, the ACLU previously faced the same division and retraction in the aftermath of the Rodney King case — first supporting a federal prosecution and then denouncing it.

In his letter to Holder, Romero wrote:

“Last night’s verdict casts serious doubt on whether the legal system truly provides equal protection of the laws to everyone regardless of race or ethnicity. This case reminds us that it is imperative that the Department of Justice thoroughly examine whether the Martin shooting was a federal civil rights violation or hate crime.”

That would seem to clearly invite not just an investigation but possible prosecution under civil rights or hate crime laws. Indeed, the ACLU said such action was “imperative.”

Various civil libertarians cried foul and reminded the ACLU of its policy that “There should be no exception to double jeopardy principles simply because the same offense may be prosecuted by two different sovereigns.”

It was then that the powerful Washington DC office stepped in with a letter of its own to Holder stating that

“We are writing to clearly state the ACLU’s position on whether or not the Department of Justice (DOJ) should consider bringing federal civil rights or hate crimes charges as a result of the state court acquittal in the George Zimmerman case. The ACLU believes the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution protects someone from being prosecuted in another court for charges arising from the same transaction. A jury found Zimmerman not guilty, and that should be the end of the criminal case.”

One could easily understand why Holder would be a tad confused (after all, he just went through mental gymnastics to excuse clear perjury by the National Intelligence Director James Clapper as a mere harmless lie under oath before the United States Congress. That had to leave some lasting cognitive damage). If the ACLU is opposed to such prosecutions, it is harm to understand the “imperative” described in Romero’s letter.

I have previously stated that I do not believe that there is a case for such a civil rights or hate crime prosecution. Indeed, Obama and Holder appear to know that when you read their statements warning citizens of the high burden in such cases. However, these prosecutions have also raised serious questions of double jeopardy despite the erosion of that protection by the federal courts. In this case, many people are outraged by the verdict and want the federal government to take a crack at Zimmerman. However such a prosecution would not only likely fail but it would be viewed as the Administration simply disagreeing with the results of a trial and jury verdict.

I have said from the first day of the indictment that Angela Corey had over-charged the case and I believe that the case might have come out differently had she charged it as a manslaughter. However, the record in the case does not come close to the record for past civil rights prosecutions. People want a do-over. The one thing that many on the different sides agree on is that Corey’s team did a poor job in the case. Yet, too often these federal prosecutions are used to “take another bite at the apple” after a high-profile and unpopular defeat.

I believe that the original letter of Romero was a mistake and contradicts the long commitment of the ACLU to the protection of citizens from successive prosecutions following acquittal. Former ACLU board member Michael Meyers joined many in criticizing Romero:

“The ACLU is out of line; a civil liberties organization is concerned with the accused getting a fair trial, which includes the right of effective counsel, due process and protection against double jeopardy. No government, much less an angry community, is entitled to a verdict to their liking . . . The ACLU is not the NAACP; the ACLU is the guardian of individual liberty, not a victims’ rights or racial grievance group.”

What do you think?

Source: Politico

99 thoughts on “ACLU.2.0: ACLU Shifts Position On Civil Rights Action Against Zimmerman”

  1. DavidM:

    Martin didn’t start any fight because Zimmerman was following him. He fought because Zimmerman was trying to hold him until the police arrived, as in apprehend him for the cops, a right Zimmerman did not have.

    1. RTC wrote: “Martin didn’t start any fight because Zimmerman was following him. He fought because Zimmerman was trying to hold him until the police arrived, as in apprehend him for the cops, a right Zimmerman did not have.”

      There is no evidence whatsoever that Zimmerman was trying to hold him. Nevertheless, even if there was, in Florida a citizen’s arrest is allowed; howbeit risky if no conviction follows. In Florida, a citizen’s arrest is treated exactly in the same way as a police officer making an arrest outside of his jurisdiction (see Ripley v. The State of Florida, 2005).

  2. What follows is from a commenter on Pierce’s blog and covers background on the Chevron legal case and a PR guy from SF. I can’t vouch for the publication or reporter, but other commenters seemed fine with it.

    This is a trumped up PR campaign by Chevron initiated by Sam Singer, who specializes in crisis communications. Perhaps Mr. Singer’s address, emails, etc. should be made public as well.
    http://blog.sfgate.com/energy/2013/06/28/how-chevron-turned-the-tables-in-ecuador/

  3. That last posting should read: I almost wrote about this story because I was amazed how a judge could allow this. Thanks for the Complaint form! Now it makes sense!!

  4. LK/raff,

    That story is so disturbing, I’m still wrestling with the full implications.

    Lead Director or Non-Employee Directors
    c/o Office of the Corporate Secretary
    Chevron Corporation
    6001 Bollinger Canyon Road
    San Ramon, CA 94583

    Every American who cares about the integrity of the Constitution should write their Board at the above address and let them know they have have crossed the line. They need to do the same with Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.

    Judge Lewis A. Kaplan
    Daniel Patrick Moynihan
    United States Courthouse
    500 Pearl St.
    New York, NY 10007-1312

    Courtroom: 21B
    Chambers Phone: (212) 805-0216

    This not only needs to be appealed, Chevron and their pet judge needs to suffer consequences. I urge everyone to express their dissatisfaction directly and including contacting their Representatives and Senators demanding Judge Kaplan’s removal from the bench, impeachment by the House and a trial by the Senate for violating citizens civil rights. I also suggest contacting the New York State Bar Disciplinary Committee and filing a complaint.

    Supreme Court, Appellate Division
    First Judicial Department
    Departmental Disciplinary Committee
    61 Broadway
    New York, NY 10006
    (212) 401-0800
    (212) 287-1045 FAX

    The complaint form can be found here (.pdf.): http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/ad1/Committees&Programs/DDC/Complaint%20Form.pdf

    Normally, I’d follow this information up with a rant – probably wearing the mask of anger to illustrate the true level of my dissatisfaction through hyperbole. However, I find this so distressing that it makes me actually angry. Very angry. Too angry to rant or make jokes.

    Shame on you “Judge” Kaplan.

    And I mean that in not the nicest way possible.

  5. Elaine, That is an amazing story, and frightening. No discontent will be tolerated. Soon, the 1% won’t even need the government, the irony is extreme. At some point I see the government enablers being relegated to the same trash-heap the 99% is due to their own enabling activities. I’d laugh but it’s really not funny.

  6. Dredd: “The ACLU is The People’s American Goverment in exile.”

    Well said.

  7. The ACLU just shot itself in the foot. The next time the ACLU argues its double jeopardy position in court, the prosecution will include the letter to Holder in its filings and make the ACLU look silly.

  8. Thank dog I’m not going to take a party with a vested interest in the outcome of the case on his word alone as conclusive evidence.

    I mean, it’s not like anyone ever lied to avoid going to prison, have they?

  9. Is it me or is all the national fuss about the birth of a British monarch incredibly un-American?

  10. JHM,

    And I gave a serious answer. The threshold is reasonableness. You present the facts as provable and let the jury decide if lethal force was reasonable given the totality of the circumstances. If the prosecution had gone for manslaughter in the first place, I think they could have presented the case in such a way to attack the reasonableness of the response. Reasonableness can be inferred from this situation without direct testimony. Self-defense has been defeated in this way as an affirmative defense before. I think it could have been this time. As for what can or cannot be proven? I’ve already said I don’t think the DOJ has a leg to stand on in going after Z directly. I also think Z’s version of events is likely a pantsload.

  11. It is interesting how the ACLU shifts position on this. I agree that the original letter by Romero was off base.

    How people interpret this case is interesting. It involves racism as well as people’s sensibilities about gun rights. It also involves differences in how people view the right of self defense. For example, to some people, Martin had every right to physically attack Zimmerman for following him. They justify him to be defending himself in this way; they think he was not only right, but they admire Martin’s courage to give Zimmerman a little whoop-ass.

    From Rachel Jeantel’s statements, Zimmerman was viewed as a homosexual rapist, and so from her mindset, Martin was in the right not to go back to his apartment but to go back and beat up Zimmerman to protect himself and his little brother back home from the sexual proclivities that Zimmerman likely had.

    So basically we have prejudice involved in how people view this case. There exists prejudice about race, prejudice about gun carry rights, prejudice about self defense, prejudice about stand your ground laws, and prejudice about sexual orientation. We might add to this prejudice about whether the jury court system we have actually works to secure justice.

    RWL wrote: “Everyone knows that an all black jury, under the same circumstances/scenario, would have given Zimmerman a guilty of 2nd degree murder verdict.”

    If every white person believed this, they would never elect another black man to any office in this country. I would hope that an all black jury would come to exactly the same conclusion as this jury did. If not, then we should be very afraid of the racism of blacks toward whites and hispanics that exists in this country.

  12. Off Topic:

    Court: Chevron Can Seize Americans’ Email Data
    In an almost unprecedented decision, a federal judge has allowed Chevron to subpoena Americans’ private email data—and said the First Amendment doesn’t apply.
    —By Dana Liebelson
    | Mon Jul. 22, 2013
    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/chevron-ecuador-american-email-legal-activists-journalists

    Excerpt:
    Thanks to disclosures made by Edward Snowden, Americans have learned that their email records are not necessarily safe from the National Security Agency—but a new ruling shows that they’re not safe from big oil companies, either.

    Last month, a federal court granted Chevron access to nine years of email metadata—which includes names, time stamps, and detailed location data and login info, but not content—belonging to activists, lawyers, and journalists who criticized the company for drilling in Ecuador and leaving behind a trail of toxic sludge and leaky pipelines. Since 1993, when the litigation began, Chevron has lost multiple appeals and has been ordered to pay plaintiffs from native communities about $19 billion to cover the cost of environmental damage. Chevron alleges that it is the victim of a mass extortion conspiracy, which is why the company is asking Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, which owns Hotmail, to cough up the email data. When Lewis Kaplan, a federal judge in New York, granted the Microsoft subpoena last month, he ruled it didn’t violate the First Amendment because Americans weren’t among the people targeted.

    Now Mother Jones has learned that the targeted accounts do include Americans—a revelation that calls the validity of the subpoena into question. The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously, and in cases involving Americans, courts have often quashed subpoenas seeking to discover the identities and locations of anonymous internet users. Earlier this year, a different federal judge quashed Chevron’s attempts to seize documents from Amazon Watch, one of the company’s most vocal critics. That judge said the subpoena was a violation of the group’s First Amendment rights. In this case, though, that same protection has not been extended to activists, journalists, and lawyers’ email metadata.

  13. Ahhhhhhh!

    It is a delight to see that the Turley blog is still capable of an interesting discussion. The Conspiracy Crap was about to drive me insane.

    And I carry an ACLU card, too. But when they make me king, Infowars is banned forever!

  14. JHM,

    As someone who has had his head pounded on concrete, that’s one of the reasons I doubt Zimmerman’s story. The wounds are far too superficial. I’ve had wounds worse than his from wrestling with friends. If it did go down as he said, he did have the option of retreat and we’re back to the kind of bad culture SYG laws encourage in light of the traditional common law doctrine of self-defense (which needed no adjustment before the Kochs started pushing the SYG agenda, common law self-defense has been a perfectly functional affirmative defense for a long time).

    1. Gene H.
      I posed a serious question. Not being a martial artist, I have a man sitting on my chest and pounding my head into the concrete. If I could retreat I wouldn’t be laying on the ground bleeding. At what point is lethal force justified? Since it’s not something I have experienced, seems to me even a “light pounding”… 😉 …would seem pretty serious, particularly, in that situation. My point, your not Zimmerman, you weren’t there, and you have no idea as to what he was thinking when he pulled the trigger. You can not prove beyond reasonable doubt that it wasn’t justifiable self defense.

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