With Criminal Case Closed, Justice Department Will Restart Hate Crime Inquiry

Eric Lipton, New York Times, July 14, 2013

The Justice Department said Sunday that it was restarting its investigation into the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin to consider possible separate hate crime charges against George Zimmerman.

Mr. Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Mr. Martin, was acquitted of all charges by a jury late Saturday.

The federal inquiry, which was started shortly after the shooting last year but had been delayed while the state criminal trial in Florida was under way, was being restarted after civil rights leaders called on the Justice Department to re-examine the case. The leaders said Sunday that they remained convinced that the shooting had a racial element. {snip}

“There is a pattern of George Zimmerman making dozens of calls to 911 over several years, frequently about young men of color,” Benjamin T. Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview on Sunday. {snip}

In a statement on Sunday, the Justice Department said that now that the state criminal trial was over, it would continue its examination of the circumstances in the shooting. “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,” the statement said.

The department sets a high bar for such a prosecution. {snip}

{snip}

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hinted at those challenges last year.

“We have to prove the highest standard in the law,” Mr. Holder said at a news conference in April 2012. “Something that was reckless, that was negligent, does not meet that standard. We have to show that there was specific intent to do the crime with the requisite state of mind.”

Criminal charges under federal hate crime law have increased significantly during the Obama administration. Between 2009 and 2012, the Justice Department prosecuted 29 percent more such cases than in the previous three fiscal years. {snip}

The increase is in part because of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, enacted in 2009, which removed a requirement that a victim had to be engaged in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school.

{snip}

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