The family of the late Trayvon Martin, a black American teenager, should be encouraged to seriously consider a civil action for wrongful death against George Zimmerman. The legal consequences of the death of Mr. Martin, who, though unarmed, was shot and killed, should be determined in a more satisfactory manner than occurred in Mr. Zimmerman’s criminal trial.
Last weekend, Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted by a Florida jury, on criminal charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. He may have believed that he was acting in self-defence, but, if so, there is grave doubt that this was a reasonable belief. The U.S. Department of Justice may be considering the possibility of a federal civil-rights prosecution, but this is not a promising route. One essential element of this hate-crime offence is a racist motive; in the nature of things, it is difficult to get inside someone else’s head, particularly on such a fraught matter as racial prejudice.
In contrast, a civil action by Mr. Martin’s family would have a lower standard of proof, on a balance of probabilities, rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Speaking to the convention of the largest black American sorority in the U.S., Eric Holder, the Attorney-General, prudently, and properly, called Mr. Martin’s death “unnecessary,” in other words, avoidable.
The jury’s decision was disturbing, appearing to validate some unreasonable fears. On the other hand, in contrast to past decades, there have been no violent protests against the verdict. Meanwhile, jury selection has taken place in a similar case in Wisconsin, about the death of a black 13-year-old. It is to be hoped that it proceeds fairly. But in the Martin case, a civil action may yet produce a better balanced result.