Zimmerman To Face State, Maybe Federal Charges

WaPo’s Sari Horwitz is reporting that Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey is going to announce, possibly as early as today, that George Zimmerman will face state criminal charges for the killing of Trayvon Martin. It’s not clear yet, however, what the charges will be.

Earlier John Schwarz of the New York Times explained some of the dilemmas facing Corey:

When deciding how to proceed with a criminal case, prosecutors must decide whether to seek the toughest possible charges, said Gabriel J. Chin, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. “There is a tradition of ‘charging high’ and letting the jury decide,” he said, but that strategy has its risks.

“You don’t want to make an opening statement to the jury where you hurt your credibility,” Professor Chin said, by seeming to impute motives to a defendant without being able to prove them. “If you end up overreaching, you could wind up with nothing.”

There’s a separate federal investigation going on, but one involving not murder or manslaughter, but violation of Martin’s civil rights:

The federal investigation is being run by the department’s civil rights division, and involves the United States attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While a separate trial on charges of violating civil rights is a possibility, “the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids,” Ms. Hinojosa said. A prosecution could not be based on a finding that negligence, recklessness, a mistake or an accident was involved.

In any event, pretrial publicity is going to create a nightmare when it comes to jury selection:

If the case does proceed to a state trial, the road ahead will be rough because of the media spotlight, said Craig Watkins, the district attorney for Dallas County, Tex. One of the toughest challenges of prosecuting high-profile cases, he said, is that so many of the early moves show up in public before the trial begins, which can endanger fairness at trial.

Mr. Watkins said: “It’s like the O. J. Simpson case all over again. Where are you going to find a jury pool that is unbiased and hasn’t heard anything about the case?”

“The O.J. Simpson case all over again.” I think that’s what we’ve all been fearing.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.