While the jury found Zimmerman not guilty in the State trial, his legal troubles may be far from over. The NAACP has been pushing the Department of Justice to file federal charges against Zimmerman under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, better known as the Matthew Shepard Act. Being completely objective and honest I don’t think the DOJ should press charges against Zimmerman under the Matthew Shepard Act. To obtain a conviction of this Act, the prosecution must prove a defendant caused bodily injury or death because of another’s actual or perceived race. While it is probable that Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon, I do not think Zimmerman killed Trayvon because he was black and I don’t think the prosecution will be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, Trayvon’s parents could still seek damages in a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman. Obviously, any amount of money damages will not replace the loss of their son, but it could provide some sort of closure for the family. Wrongful death suits are completely independent of criminal trials so one will not preclude the other. In fact, since the burden of proof in a wrongful death suit (more likely than not) is less than a criminal trial (beyond a reasonable doubt) it is possible that a defendant can be found liable civilly, but not criminally.
As I discussed in a previous post, had Zimmerman done as the 911 operator had asked and stayed in his car and not followed Trayvon, the fight would have never occurred and Trayvon would still be alive today. Accordingly, it is possible that Zimmerman’s actions more likely than not caused Trayvon’s death and his family will be able to recover damages. However, it is also possible that Zimmerman could receive civil immunity due to Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.