United States v. Roof

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation10 F.4th 314
Docket NumberNo. 17-3,17-3
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff – Appellee, v. Dylann Storm ROOF, Defendant – Appellant. Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network, Amici Supporting Appellee.
Decision Date25 August 2021

ARGUED: Sapna Mirchandani, Greenbelt, Maryland, Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Los Angeles, California; Alexandra Wallace Yates, Concord, Massachusetts, for Appellant. Ann O'Connell Adams, Bonnie I. Robin-Vergeer, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Amy M. Karlin, Interim Federal Public Defender, Los Angeles, California, James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Brian C. Rabbitt, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Robert A. Zink, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General, Alexander V. Maugeri, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Thomas E. Chandler, Brant S. Levine, Appellate Section, Civil Rights Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; Peter M. McCoy, Jr., United States Attorney, Columbia, South Carolina, Nathan S. Williams, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellee. Samantha A. Crane, Kelly Israel, AUTISTIC SELF ADVOCACY NETWORK, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Lydia Brown, AUTISTIC WOMEN AND NONBINARY NETWORK, Lincoln, Nebraska, for Amicus Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network.

Before Duane BENTON, Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation, Kent A. JORDAN, Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting by designation, and Ronald Lee GILMAN, Senior Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation.1

Affirmed by published per curiam opinion.



II. Background...332
B. Arrest, Confession, and Evidence Collection...332
C. Indictment and Trial...333
IV. Issues Related to Self-Representation...347
D. Issue 6: Neither the Constitution nor the Federal Death Penalty Act Requires that Mitigation Evidence Be Presented During Capital Sentencing over a Defendant's Objection...356
E. Issue 7: Roof's Waiver of Counsel Was Knowing, Voluntary, and Intelligent...358

1. Legal Standard...359

2. Roof Was Appropriately Aware of His Role and Responsibilities...359

3. The District Court Need Not Have Informed Roof of the Ability to Selectively Use Counsel for Different Parts of the Case...361

G. Issue 9: The District Court Did Not Err in Finding Roof Competent to Self-Represent...362
H. Issue 10: The District Court Did Not Err in Denying Roof Further Assistance from Standby Counsel or Additional Accommodations...363

1. Standby Counsel...364

2. Accommodations...364

VI. Issues Related to Guilt Verdict...380
A. Issue 15: Roof's Commerce Clause Challenges to the Religious-Obstruction Statute Do Not Require Reversal of Those Convictions...380

1. The Religious-Obstruction Statute Is Facially Valid...382

2. The Religious-Obstruction Statute Is Valid as Applied to Roof...384

3. The Jury Instructions Were Proper...387

C. Issue 17: Congress Did Not Exceed Its Thirteenth Amendment Authority in Enacting the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 249...390

1. Hate Crimes Background...390

2. The HCPA Is Appropriate Legislation Under Controlling Thirteenth Amendment Precedent...391

E. Issue 19: Roof's 18 U.S.C. § 924(j)(1) Firearm Convictions Are Valid...........397

1. Firearm Offense Background...397

2. Legal Framework...398

3. "Crime of Violence" Jurisprudence...399

4. "Death Results" Offenses Under § 249(a)(1) Are Crimes of Violence...400

5. "Death Results" Offenses Under § 247(a)(2) Are Crimes of Violence...402


In 2015, Dylann Storm Roof, then 21 years old, shot and killed nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church ("Mother Emanuel") in Charleston, South Carolina during a meeting of a Wednesday night 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 and firearm counts, and he was sentenced accordingly. He now appeals the convictions and sentence. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 18 U.S.C. § 3595(a), we will affirm.2

A. The Crime

On June 17, 2015, twelve parishioners and church leaders of Mother Emanuel—all African Americans—gathered in the Fellowship Hall for their weekly Bible-study. Around 8:16 p.m., Roof entered the Fellowship Hall carrying a small bag that concealed a Glock .45 semi-automatic handgun and eight magazines loaded with eleven bullets each. The parishioners welcomed Roof, handing him a Bible and a study sheet.

For the next 45 minutes, Roof worshipped with the parishioners. They stood and shut their eyes for closing prayer. Roof then took out his gun and started shooting. Parishioners dove under tables to hide. Roof continued shooting, reloading multiple times. After firing approximately seventy-four rounds, Roof reached one parishioner who was praying aloud. He told her to "shut up" and then asked if he had shot her yet. (J.A. at 5017.) She said no. Roof responded, "I'm going to leave you here to tell the story." (J.A. at 5017.) Roof left the church around 9:06 p.m. When police arrived, seven of the twelve parishioners were dead. Two others died soon after. Roof killed Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr., and Reverend Myra Thompson.

B. Arrest, Confession, and Evidence Collection

Police began searching for Roof, publicizing photos and setting up a phone bank. Acting on a tip the next morning, officers in Shelby, North Carolina stopped Roof's car. Roof complied with their directions, identified himself, admitted involvement in the shooting, and said that there was a gun in his backseat. Officers took Roof to the Shelby police station, where he agreed to speak with FBI agents.

After obtaining a written Miranda waiver, two FBI agents interviewed Roof for about two hours. He confessed: "Well, I did, I killed them." (J.A. at 4265.) He also laughingly stated, "I am guilty. We all know I'm guilty." (J.A. at 4308.) He explained that he shot the parishioners with a Glock .45 handgun he had bought two months earlier. Calling himself a "white nationalist," he told agents that he "had to do it" because "black people are killing white people every day" and "rap[ing] white women." (J.A. at 4269, 4282.) The agents asked whether he was trying to start a revolution. Roof responded, "I'm not delusional, I don't think that[,] you know, that something like what I did could start a race war or anything like that." (J.A. at 4284.) Later in the interview, however, he agreed that he was trying to "bring ... attention to this cause" and "agitate race relations" because "[i]t causes friction and then, you know, it could lead to a race war." (J.A. at 4301, 4329-30.) Roof explained that he targeted Charleston for his attack because of its historic importance and, after...

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