United States v. Roof, No. 17-3 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
In 2015, Dylann Roof, then age 21, shot and killed nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina during a meeting of a Bible-study group. A jury convicted him on nine counts of racially motivated hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of racially motivated hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, nine counts of obstructing religion resulting in death, three counts of obstructing religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence. The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence on the religious obstruction, 18 U.S.C. 247, and firearm counts. He was sentenced accordingly.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed, upholding findings that Roof was competent to stand trial and a ruling that allowed him to represent himself during the penalty phase of his trial. Neither the Constitution nor the Federal Death Penalty Act requires that mitigation evidence be presented during capital sentencing over a defendant’s objection. Isolated witness testimony describing Roof as “evil” and stating that he would go to “the pit of hell” did not render the trial fundamentally unfair. The court rejected arguments that his convictions for religious obstruction were invalid under the Commerce Clause or required proof of religious hostility; that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. 249, was an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s Thirteenth Amendment authority; that the Attorney General erroneously certified Roof’s federal prosecution; and that Roof’s firearm convictions under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) were invalid because the predicate offenses are not categorically crimes of violence.