No double jeopardy

Published July 23, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Re Jim Green's "Double jeopardy" (Forum, July 19), I had serious misgivings about the state of Florida's attempt to prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Like Green, I would have serious misgivings about any attempt by the federal government to prosecute him for allegedly violating Martin's civil rights.

However, Green is wrong to assert that such a prosecution would violate the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment prohibition of double jeopardy. Frequently, both state and federal law is violated in the same criminal episode. The Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case is instructive.

While Smart's abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was found incompetent to stand trial in state court, because he also violated federal law, he was later found competent, tried and convicted in federal court. There was no violation of the Constitution's double jeopardy clause, in part because the state and federal governments, respectively, are separate sovereigns.

The separate sovereigns principle also applies to any federal prosecution of Zimmerman. He would not be prosecuted for murder in federal court, but rather for allegedly violating Martin's civil rights, which is a separate crime. Thus, double jeopardy would not apply.

Ken K. Gourdin


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