Last week, George Zimmerman was found not guilty on charges of manslaughter and second-degree murder in the case surrounding his fatal shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in February of last year. As people nationwide react to the unpopular verdict, Martin’s family deals with the fallout and contemplates filing a civil suit against Zimmerman.
What a civil suit could mean for Zimmerman and for the Martin family
In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, the burden of proof is considerably lighter; the prosecution must merely show that their case is “more likely than not.” For the Martin family, if they should file a civil suit, it means they are more likely to get a verdict in their favor.
A guilty verdict in a criminal case can mean jail time for the defendant, as it would have in Zimmerman’s case, but is not a potential outcome in a civil trial. Instead, a verdict against Zimmerman would most likely mean a financial penalty, plus the legal costs of the court battle. A verdict for Zimmerman would mean that the Martin family would be responsible for the legal fees associated with the case.
Other high-profile criminal cases have been followed by quieter civil proceedings. In 1995, OJ Simpson was famously acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife and her friend but lost the civil suit that was brought against him. He paid millions of dollars in damages. More recently, Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her daughter Caylee, and currently faces two civil suits.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws complicate the matter
If he faces a civil trial, is another verdict in Zimmerman’s favor likely? It’s possible. Florida is a “Stand Your Ground” state. This controversial law, which appears in some form in more than 20 states, protects a citizen’s right to defend him or herself with force against attack. Zimmerman has always said that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, but he and his lawyers chose to forgo a pre-trial Stand Your Ground hearing. In such a hearing, a judge has the discretion to let the defendant go immediately. Zimmerman’s lawyers instead wanted the case to go in front of a jury.
Other lawsuits attached to the Zimmerman case
In addition to a possible civil suit from the Martin family, Zimmerman could also face prosecution at the federal level. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been conducting an investigation and could bring criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Not to be confused with a civil trial, the criminal civil rights trial would be a criminal trial at the federal level (Zimmerman was just acquitted in a state court), and could result in jail time for Zimmerman. A petition from the NAACP and MoveOn.org urging the DOJ to file charges has already garnered a million signatures.
Other legal matters surrounding the case: Zimmerman is the plaintiff in a defamation suit against NBC Universal Media. He’s suing over their editing of the 911 phone call made on that February night. And back in April of this year, the Martin family brought a suit against the homeowners association of the neighborhood where Trayvon was shot. The case was ultimately settled.
It’s not over for George Zimmerman
Even if new charges are not brought against Zimmerman, his quality of life will certainly be compromised. It’s reported that since the verdict, he’s been in hiding and wearing a bulletproof vest. Though Zimmerman has been acquitted of criminal charges in the state of Florida, he’s not out of the woods yet.