George Zimmerman, center, talks to his attorneys Don West, left,...

George Zimmerman, center, talks to his attorneys Don West, left, and Mark O'Mara during jury deliberations in his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (July 13, 2013) Credit: AP

The U.S. Justice Department, which opened an investigation into the George Zimmerman case Sunday, could charge him with federal civil rights violations, local attorneys said.

While a Florida jury found neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, a federal probe would examine whether he violated Martin's civil rights when he fatally shot him Feb. 16, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.

To prove such violations requires a different standard of evidence and law than what was used in the state case against Zimmerman. So a federal prosecution would not be double jeopardy, they said.

Robert Valli, a Garden City-based civil rights attorney said if a probe proceeds, the local federal prosecutor would probably seek a grand jury indictment on charges that Zimmerman violated the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Valli said potential charges would be the government's "version of a homicide charge, coupled with the intention to do so because of the person's membership in a protected class."

Fred Brewington, a Hempstead civil rights attorney, who has conversed with the Martin legal team, said "a federal action is feasible" and would be based on several sections of federal law.

A federal trial would be separate from any civil litigation for monetary damages that Martin's parents may choose to file against Zimmerman.

"This is a very, very intense time period for the family," Brewington said. The public "has to realize that a life has been taken. We continue to be in support of them. No matter what we look at in this case, it is a tragedy."

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