Attorneys representing the Midlands man accused of killing nine parishioners at a Charleston AME church last year are seeking the dismissal of federal charges against him, arguing his case is outside the federal government’s legal purview.
In a new filing Tuesday, Dylann Roof’s attorneys argued the 33 federal charges against their client should be thrown out in part because they are unconstitutional extensions of federal legal authority. Because the charges are being used in the Justice Department’s arguments for a potential death penalty, Roof’s attorney wrote they would drop the motion if the Justice Department agreed to drop the death penalty possibility. Federal prosecutors will have a chance to respond to the motion before District Judge Richard Gergel considers it ahead of Roof’s trial.
Roof’s federal trial is slated to begin in November, with a state trial expected to come shortly afterwards in January. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has indicated she also plans to seek the death penalty.
The challenge claims the Justice Department cannot use the Constitution’s “Commerce clause” to file religious hate crime charges against Roof because his alleged crimes do not involve “interstate commerce.” Instead, the complaint argues the state’s own case is sufficient without federal jurisdiction.
“Any connection to interstate commerce that might be imagined here – such as intrastate travel on an interstate highway to the site of the crime, or use of goods purchased in interstate commerce to commit the crime, or use of email or the internet in researching or publicizing it – would be sufficient today to render virtually any crime federal,” the filing states.
Roof is accused of killing nine people gathered for a June 2015 Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. Unlike the state’s murder and weapons-related charges, most of the federal charges include hate crime elements. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, although it does have laws against obstructing religion.