Why George Zimmerman Won't Face Federal Charges

Federal prosecutors had to prove he willfully targeted Trayvon Martin because of his race.

George Zimmerman will not face civil rights charges for his actions in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The Justice Department reached this decision today, though The Washington Post reported it as the likely conclusion in October.

"Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man's premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface," departing Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press statement.

Zimmerman was acquitted in a Florida state court in 2013, but the Justice Department soon followed up with a civil rights investigation. However, the burden of proof for such investigations is high. For a person to be charged with civil rights violations, prosecutors have to show the person has "criminalized willfully" against a person because of that persons "actual or perceived race," as the Justice Department release explains. "Courts define 'willfully' to require proof that a defendant knew his acts were unlawful, and committed those acts in open defiance of the law. It is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law."

The Justice Department concluded that "there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of these statutes."