I’m no civil-rights lawyer, but it is hard to see how the federal government could win a case against Zimmerman (which is why the Justice Department is using the slippery phrase that it is “investigating” him, rather than bringing charges), particularly after he was just unanimously acquitted in Florida. There is no double jeopardy here, but the prosecutors in Florida, who were the most familiar with the evidence and the court, could not even get one juror to side with them.
Even more difficult than the facts is the underlying “crime.” What federal law has Zimmerman violated? Why should the federal government intervene in murder, the prosecution of which is the job of the states? The main civil-rights laws are targeted at defendants who deprive others of their federal rights acting under “color of law” — i.e., acting on behalf of the state.
DOJ may consider some other possibilities, such as a federal hate-crimes law or laws prohibiting private conspiracies to deprive people of their federal rights. Prosecuting Zimmerman under these laws, I think, would pose serious constitutional problems.
Here is a crime that is purely intrastate, by one private individual against another private individual. There is no broad conspiracy to frustrate federal law, perhaps in silent cooperation with state authorities, as happened in days gone by with the Klu Klux Klan.
Here’s a listing of the criminal statutes enforced by the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Take a good look and see if there’s anything that could even come close to applying to Zimmerman. It’s hard to see what federal right was violated — unless one thinks it’s the right to life, in which case the Justice Department should be investigating every murder in the country where the victim is a minority.