President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have little if any power to compel states to dial back “stand your ground” laws the two have criticized in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
While the Justice Department may review the case and could seek civil rights charges against Zimmerman, experts say the federal government has little recourse with the stand your ground laws themselves.
“There’s little the Department of Justice can do,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told The Hill.
“States are allowed to have their own criminal laws, including self-defense laws,” Winker said. “DOJ may be able to pursue civil rights charges in individual cases, but it has no authority to overturn state laws.”
The stand your ground laws in two dozen states around the country have come under national scrutiny in the wake of last week’s acquittal of Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, in Martin’s shooting death.
Following the verdict, the Justice Department announced it would consider bringing a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman, and on Friday President Obama said that the laws need to be examined to see whether they “encourage” violence.
“If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?” Obama said during a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.
Still, without backing from the states, Holder and the administration have fairly little recourse, Winkler said.