Yesterday, the Justice Department closed the book on the George Zimmerman case with the announcement that it will not file federal civil rights charges. When Attorney General Eric Holder ordered in federal investigators soon after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, some (including myself) questioned the legal basis for entering the case based on the still developing evidence. The Justice Department usually allows state or city prosecutors and police to finish their investigation before entry into a case. Holder was viewed as responding to political pressure in ordering the premature entry in the case. That investigation will now end shortly before Holder leaves his very controversial tenure as Attorney General.
It was clear to some of us that there was no clear basis for civil rights violations given the high standard for such prosecutions. That is not to say that there were not legitimate concerns. There were obvious questions surrounding the shooting. However, the facts were largely in equipoise and would normally have been allowed to progress to a grand jury before an intervention. Despite the claims of some legal commentators, there was never a compelling basis for federal charges, even for highly motivated federal prosecutors. For prior columns, click Here and Here. Holder later followed the same approach with an early intervention into investigating the officer involved in the Fergusan, Missouri shooting. That investigation is equally likely to be closed without charges.
The Justice Department however held the case to the very end of Holder’s tenure despite the clear lack of foundation for federal charges. The Justice Department announced: “Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface. We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”
Thursday will be the third anniversary of Martin’s death.