Skip to main content

Politics shouldn't force federal case vs. Zimmerman

By Andrew C. McCarthy, Special to CNN
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 2000 GMT (0400 HKT)
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, is joined by her son Jahvaris Fulton as she speaks to the crowd during a rally in New York City, Saturday, July 20. A jury in Florida acquitted Zimmerman of all charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/27/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial/index.html'>View photos of key moments from the trial.</a> Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, is joined by her son Jahvaris Fulton as she speaks to the crowd during a rally in New York City, Saturday, July 20. A jury in Florida acquitted Zimmerman of all charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of key moments from the trial.
HIDE CAPTION
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Photos: Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andrew McCarthy: Justice Department should handle cases based strictly on facts and law
  • McCarthy: Attorney General Eric Holder should not have politicized the Zimmerman case
  • He says Zimmerman case is not a federal case because civil rights was not an issue
  • McCarthy: If justice had been served, Zimmerman case would never have been a criminal case

Editor's note: Andrew C. McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is author of "Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy," "Willful Blindness" and "The Grand Jihad." He is a senior fellow at National Review Institute and a contributing editor at National Review.

(CNN) -- We have a Department of Justice, not a Department of Social Justice. That is an essential distinction. It is brought into sharp relief by politicized demands that George Zimmerman, having just been acquitted of murder by the state of Florida, be subjected to a second prosecution -- a federal civil rights indictment -- over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The Justice Department has earned the trust of the United States courts precisely because it resists the politicization of law enforcement. Its tradition is to ensure the equal protection of law for every American, to evaluate cases strictly on the basis of facts and law, and to recognize its obligations not only to the community but also to criminal suspects.

Yet, though Attorney General Eric Holder never tires of reminding us about the due process owed even to foreign terrorists who've confessed to mass murder, the principle does not seem to apply to Zimmerman, an American now acquitted of murder.

Even if the Justice Department never files criminal charges against Zimmerman -- which is likely given the implausibility of obtaining a conviction -- it is extremely inappropriate for law enforcement officials, particularly the U.S. attorney general, to engage in a running extrajudicial commentary that taints the jury pool and ratchets up the investigative anxiety for a citizen who is presumed innocent and has been acquitted. Law enforcement officials speak in court -- with public charges, if prosecutors have the evidence to back them up.

Andrew C. McCarthy
Andrew C. McCarthy

The justice system is not a morality play. It is not designed to right every wrong, nor has it the capacity to remediate tragedy, such as the indescribable pain the Martin family endures after the loss of their 17-year-old son. In the face of such tragedy, the human instinct to demand some kind of "justice" -- social, poetic or cosmic -- is something we all feel. But that is not the justice our legal system exists to dispense.

Federal courts prosaically apply established law to provable facts, and they rely heavily on the Justice Department to perform that duty faithfully. When a popular political narrative -- such as the left's portrayal of racism as the root cause of many American ills -- crashes into uncongenial facts, the justice system is the place where the narrative must yield, and the Justice Department is supposed to ensure that it does.

Sadly, just the opposite has happened in the Zimmerman case. It has been bereft from the start both of proof that Zimmerman had the requisite criminal intent to sustain a murder charge and of evidence to refute his well-corroborated claim of self-defense. That is why veteran police investigators initially declined to file charges.

Corey: Juror selection due to seating
After the verdict

Yet Holder and his subordinates joined in the effort to induce Florida to file charges, unabashedly making common cause with the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose metier is racially divisive demagoguery.

Attending an anti-Zimmerman rally with Sharpton, Holder saber-rattled about filing a civil rights case. As the attorney general well knew, his inappropriate chatter would be construed as a suggestion that Florida had abdicated its responsibilities by declining to prosecute a purportedly racist murderer. Simultaneously, Justice's Community Relations Service worked closely with anti-Zimmerman activists to pressure Florida Gov. Rick Scott into reversing the police determination that there was no case. Scott finally caved, appointing the compliant special prosecutor Angela Corey, who dutifully lodged a groundless second-degree murder charge.

Standard, prudent Justice Department practice has always discouraged commentary on criminal investigations outside the public record. That is for the politicians. Law enforcement is not supposed to speak until the government is ready to file public charges and back them up in court.

To the contrary, Holder has engaged in an extrajudicial publicity campaign, and now finds himself in the hot seat: It's been over a year since he promised to file charges if warranted by the facts, and the facts have long been known -- indeed, they've been tried in court.

Obviously, it is easier to promise to keep investigating -- and to keep alive a race narrative dear to President Obama's political base -- than to acknowledge that there is no federal case against Zimmerman. The insurmountable proof problems Florida prosecutors faced do not even begin to describe the challenges that would confront a federal case.

A civil rights case would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman shot Martin out of racial animus. There is no evidence that Zimmerman has ever been a racist -- jurors in the Florida case say race was not relevant to the case, and the FBI, after investigating extensively for months, has been unable to find proof of a racial motivation.

Furthermore, a federal prosecution would require proof that Zimmerman was trying to prevent Martin's enjoyment of some statutorily specified civil right -- like attending school, applying for a job, staying in a hotel, going to a restaurant, or participating in a federal program. The Zimmerman-Martin altercation was purely local with no federal implications.

Finally, in light of the Justice Department's heavy-handed role in pressuring Florida to bring a case that police originally decided not to charge, there may be a serious question whether the "dual sovereignty" exception to double jeopardy -- allowing a federal prosecution despite a state acquittal -- applies.

This is not a federal case. If real justice had been served, it would never have been a criminal case at all.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew C. McCarthy.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT