Justice Department confirms Zimmerman case is under review

George Zimmerman in Trial

George Zimmerman in Trial – courtesy of usmagazine.com

From TheGrio.com:

WASHINGTON (AP) (7/14/13) — The Justice Department said Sunday it is looking into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case.

The department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.

In a statement, the Justice Department said the criminal section of its civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.

“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. Justice added that it will determine “whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.”

From the Rodney King case in Los Angeles to the Algiers Motel incident in Detroit more than four decades ago, the Justice Department has a long history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who have previously been acquitted in related state cases.

On Sunday, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous started a petition calling for the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman for the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, but experience has shown it’s almost never easy getting convictions in such high-profile prosecutions.

“The Justice Department would face significant challenges in bringing a federal civil rights case against Mr. Zimmerman,” said Alan Vinegrad, the former U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. “There are several factual and legal hurdles that federal prosecutors would have to overcome: They’d have to show not only that the attack was unjustified, but that Mr. Zimmerman attacked Mr. Martin because of his race and because he was using a public facility, the street.”

As to the last element, the confrontation between Zimmerman and the shooting victim occurred in a gated community, which may not fit the legal definition of a public facility.

Lauren Resnick, a former federal prosecutor in New York who successfully tried a man in the killing of an Orthodox Jew during the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, said the Justice Department could conceivably proceed under a theory that Zimmerman interfered with Martin’s right to walk down a public street based on his race or religion. But that would be challenging, she said, because it would require prosecutors to prove, among other things, that trailing Martin on the street constituted interference.

“One could argue it did, if it freaked him out and he couldn’t comfortably walk down the street — there’s an argument here,” said Resnick, who is now in private practice.

But she said federal prosecutors were likely to encounter the same hurdles as state prosecutors in establishing that Zimmerman was driven by racial animus and was the initial aggressor, as opposed to someone who acted in self-defense.

“When you have a fact pattern where one person’s alive, and one person’s not, and the person alive is the defendant, it’s hard to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Resnick.

Samuel Bagenstos, a former No. 2 official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said: “This is an administration that hasn’t shied away from bringing hate crimes cases that are solid prosecutions based on the facts and the law, but from what I’ve seen this would be a very difficult case to prosecute federally because the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman acted because of Trayvon Martin’s race. If you’re trying to prove racial motivation, you are usually looking for multiple statements related to why he is engaging in this act of violence. I think it’s a difficult case to prove.”

Another federal case, the Rodney King prosecution, illustrates just how difficult it can be for the federal government to come in behind a state prosecution that ended in acquittal, even when there’s videotaped evidence of the crime.

King was beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers after a high-speed car chase in 1991, but the four police officers charged in the incident were acquitted on state charges of assault with a deadly weapon and three of the four were acquitted on a charge of use of excessive force. The jury deadlocked on the excessive force charge against the fourth officer.

Federal prosecutors obtained an indictment on charges of violating King’s civil rights. Two of the officers were found guilty and were imprisoned. The other two officers were acquitted.

In a 1970 prosecution, the Justice Department charged three white Detroit police officers and one black private security guard with allegedly conspiring to deprive eight black youths and two white girls of their civil rights during the 1967 riots in Detroit.

The officers had gone to the Algiers Motel in a reported search for snipers. Three black teenagers were slain at the motel. One of the police officers had been acquitted earlier of a state charge of first-degree murder in the case; another officer had been found innocent in a separate state trial on a charge of felonious assault.

The federal case took place in Flint, Mich., an hour’s drive north of Detroit, after the defense complained that the defendants could not get a fair trial in the city where the slayings occurred. A jury acquitted all four defendants.

In prosecuting the law enforcement officers, the Justice Department invoked an 1871 civil rights law. Prosecutors alleged that the officers had lined up the people staying at the motel and slugged them with clubs and rifle butts. There was testimony that several of the guests were taken into separate rooms where shotguns were fired into the ceiling in an effort to get those in a nearby hallway to disclose the identity of the alleged snipers and the location of firearms.

In a defense that turned out to be successful, defense attorneys emphasized that the charge against their clients was conspiracy, not assault, coercion, intimidation or murder. Lawyers for the two officers previously charged in the state cases also argued that their clients were being charged with serious criminality even though they had already been acquitted.


How I Feel About the NSA Spying!

Snowden’s Leaks Trigger Shift in Public Opinion

Photo courtesy of ibtimes.com

Photo courtesy of ibtimes.com


A new Quinnipiac poll shows a dramatic change in public opinion regarding U.S. counter-terrorism policies.

For more, go to The Secular Jurist’s blog.

Why the U.S. NSA Spying Case Matters

Photo courtesy of news.bbcimg.co.uk

Photo courtesy of news.bbcimg.co.uk


WashingtonPost.com ran this story today (7/11/13):

A federal judge Thursday ordered the government to stop genital searches of Guantanamo Bay detainees who want to meet with their lawyers, concluding that the motivation for the searches is not to enhance security, but to deter the detainees’ access to attorneys. 

“As petitioners’ counsel argued, the choice between submitting to a search procedure that is religiously and culturally abhorrent or forgoing counsel effectively presents no choice for devout Muslims,” one of the judges of the case wrote.

Brent Rushforth, a lawyer for two of the detainees, said that the Obama administration “is flouting rule of law as recognized by the Supreme Court.”

Just over 100 of the 166 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo have been on a hunger strike for four months to protest their indefinite detention.

The prison officials have now taken to force-feeding them, a very painful procedure that many observers consider torture.

When Edward Snowden revealed what he knew about the U.S. government’s PRISM spy program, carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA), some reacted with horror, others with apathy, and still others with cynicism. Well, there are some very good reasons why, if you are not horrified, you should be. That article is one demonstration of why.

People, like me, who were first horrified are now angry. We say, “It’s not right! And it does matter!” What is happening right now in Guantanamo Bay prison matters to the people who are suffering there. They are suffering because their rights are being violated. The judge deemed the searches illegal- the searches violated the prisoners’ rights.

What PRISM and the PATRIOT Act (and any other spy program the NSA may be engaged in) has everything to do with rights. Why? Because these programs violate our rights in myriad ways. They are, as we speak, monitoring our phone calls, internet activity including emails, and who knows what else. They are allowed to enter our homes without warrants, which means that they can barge into your home at anytime and flip through you belongings to look for “evidence” of terrorist activities. Phone calls, etc., can also be used as evidence.

What’s especially scary about all this is that only a secret court can approve of the NSA’s activities, not a regular court. This is most likely because the government knows full well that a regular court would never sign off on what they are doing, since this activity violates the American Constitution. And since it is secret, none of us can get a peek at what exactly is being done, yet it is still allowed.

Another examples of what happens when rights are violated:

The Case of  the “Ford Heights Four,” according to InnocenceProject.org: 

In 1978, along with friends Dennis Williams and Willie Rainge, Kenneth Adams was convicted of gang-raping and murdering a twenty-three year old woman and murdering her fiance. Adams was sentenced to seventy-five years in prison, Williams to death, and Rainge to life without parole. The fourth man, Verneal Jimerson, was convicted and sent to death row. The four young men convicted for this crime were to become known as the Ford Heights Four.

The state’s chief witness in the case, Paula Gray, claimed to have been at the scene of the crime with the four men. After her testimony secured indictments of all four men, she recanted and the charges against Jimerson were dropped.

In all, the Innocence Project found that due to eyewitness misidentification, false confessions/admissions and unvalidated or improper forensic science, the trial against them was unjust. The police and the justice system allowed these problems to go unchecked during the trial. And that the men were black surely had a hand in how badly the trial went for them. Eventually, through new DNA evidence, they were found innocent. The Ford Heights Four settled civil claims for $36 million against the police officers involved in the original investigation. The men were released from prison in 1996 after serving 17 and a half years in prison.

If these men had had their rights recognized, the fraud that took place in the trial wouldn’t have happened. It wouldn’t have been allowed.

Raise the Minimum Wage! petition

I found an article about raising the minimum wage and this petition on youngprogressivevoices.com. The article is very informative and includes facts about raising the minimum wage, countering the myths that have always circled around this issue. Once you read the article, which was very well-researched, you’ll realize that any arguments against raising the minimum wage have no basis in reality.

To sign the petition, go to petitions.moveon.org.

Help Get the “Restore Our Privacy Act” Passed- petition

US Supreme Court - by Mark Fischer

US Supreme Court – by Mark Fischer


I found this petition on digger666.com’s blog.

From Sanders.Senate.gov:

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the Restore Our Privacy Act to put strict limits on sweeping powers used by the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly track telephone calls by millions of innocent Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

We must give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies all of the tools that they need to combat terrorism but we must do so in a way that protects our freedom and respects the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches.

To sign this petition, go to Sanders.Senate.gov.