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Opening Arguments

Double jeopardy

I generally stayed away from the hoopla surrounding the George Zimmerman trial, nothing only that the state's case seemed (from a distance) to have enough holes in it to create reasonable doubt. Apparently, the jury agreed, so that's that.

Except it's not:

Federal prosecutors are pressing forward with their investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin following the acquittal of the man who shot him, George Zimmerman, on state charges, a spokesperson for the Justice Department said Sunday.

“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” Dena W. Iverson, a Justice spokesperson, said in a statement.

The civil-rights exception to double jeopardy has always bothered me. I know it's well-established by case law and court opinion (see entry in legal dictionary here). But it seems to have been used far two frequently in a very loose way to get around the Fifth Amendment. From the legal dictionary:

The distinctions between criminal and civil proceedings and between punitive and remedial remedies may appear semantic, but they raise real legal issues. Courts have recognized that civil remedies may advance punitive goals. When they do, double jeopardy questions surface. For example, a civil Forfeiture or civil fine, although characterized by the legislature as remedial, becomes punitive when the value of the property seized or the amount of the fine imposed is "overwhelmingly disproportionate" to society's loss (Halper). This principle was exemplified when the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the federal government from seeking a $130,000 civil penalty against a man who previously had been sentenced to prison for the same offense of filing $585 worth of false Medicare claims (Halper). The Court concluded that the gross disparity between the fine imposed and society's economic loss reflected a punitive remedial aim.

There's a difference between a private party going for civil damages after a criminal acquittal, as in the O.J. Simpson case, and the federal government trying to pick up the ball after it was dropped by the state. That raises the specter of perpetual punishment, clearly against the spirit of everything our criminal justice system is supposed to stand for.