The U.S. Department of Justice, overseen by Attorney General Eric Holder, has ordered the Sanford, Florida police department to keep possession of all the evidence from George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial – including the exonerated neighborhood watch volunteer’s gun.
Sanford police confirmed on Thursday that the DOJ asked the agency not to return any pieces of evidence to their owners. Zimmerman was expected to get his firearm back by month’s end.
The development is a sign that the criminal section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is seriously investigating Zimmerman to determine if federal civil rights charges should be filed.
Florida law requires that Zimmerman regain possession of his gun, but the DOJ has stepped in to prevent it
Zimmerman was acquitted of murder and manslaughter on Sunday in a Florida courtroom, but civil rights violations provide an exception to the U.S. Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy after a defendant has been found ‘not guilty’ in a state or local jurisdiction.
That’s because if Zimmerman were tried in federal court, he would be charged with violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights, not causing his death.
WESH-TV in Orlando reported Thursday afternoon that police had confirmed the evidence ‘hold,’ meaning that everything related to the trial, from Zimmerman’s gun to the Skittles and iced tea Martin was carrying when the pair’s altercation began, will remain in the hands of law enforcement.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to questions about whether it will take custody of the evidence, or when that might occur.
Attorney General Eric Holder told NAACP convention-goers that the DOJ still has an open civil rights investigation in Zimmerman, despite his acquittal in Florida
MSNBC host Al Sharpton has planned a series of ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rallies, one of whose goals will be to call on the federal government to prosecute Zimmerman
But Holder himself confirmed on Tuesday during the NAACP’s annual convention that the Justice Department still has an open investigation into Zimmerman’s actions on Feb. 26, 2012.
‘I am concerned about this case,’ Holder told the assembled black civil rights activists, ‘and as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it.’
‘While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take.’
Most lawyers will tell you that the Justice Department will not go after Zimmerman, but my gut is not so sure. The lawyers assume the rule of law. I think we are into a post-legal phase of the United States.