United States v. Roof, Criminal No. 2:15-472-RMG.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtRichard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge
Citation252 F.Supp.3d 469
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Dylann Storm ROOF.
Decision Date10 May 2017
Docket NumberCriminal No. 2:15-472-RMG.

252 F.Supp.3d 469

UNITED STATES of America,
v.
Dylann Storm ROOF.

Criminal No. 2:15-472-RMG.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division.

Signed May 10, 2017


252 F.Supp.3d 470

Julius Ness Richardson, US Attorneys Office, Columbia, SC, Nathan Stuart Williams, US Attorneys Office, Charleston, SC, Paige M. Fitzgerald, Nicholas Ulysses Murphy, Stephen Curran, Mary J. Hahn, Richard E. Burns, US Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for United States of America.

David I. Bruck, Washington and Lee School of Law, Lexington, VA, Emily Paavola, Teresa Lynn Norris, Blume Norris and Franklin–Best, Columbia, SC, Kimberly C. Stevens, Asheville, NC, Sarah S. Gannett, Arizona Federal Public Defender's Office, Phoenix, AZ, Michael P. O'Connell, Stirling and O'Connell, Mount Pleasant, SC, for Dylann Storm Roof.

ORDER AND OPINION

Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for a new trial or a judgment of acquittal. (Dkt. No. 916.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion.

I. Background

On July 22, 2015, a federal grand jury returned a 33–count indictment charging Defendant Dylann Roof with multiple counts of 5 offenses:

• Counts 1–9 allege racially motivated hate crimes resulting in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1) ;

• Counts 10–12 allege racially motivated hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1) ;

• Counts 13–21 allege obstruction of religious exercise resulting in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 247(a)(2) ;

• Counts 22–24 allege obstruction of religious exercise involving an attempt to kill using a weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 247(a)(2) ; and

• Counts 25–33 allege use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of
252 F.Supp.3d 471
violence prosecutable in federal court, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and (j).

(Dkt. No. 1.)

Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, and the Court denied Defendant's motion. (Dkt. Nos. 233, 735.) After a seven-day trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. (Dkt. No. 817.) In the sentencing phase, the jury returned death sentence verdicts on Counts 13–21 and 25–33 (Dkt. No. 871), and the Court imposed life sentences without the possibility of parole for Counts 1–12 and 22–24 (Dkt. No. 885).

During the January 11, 2017 sentencing hearing, the Court orally granted in part Defendant's motion for an extension of time to file post-trial motions.1 Defendant filed a motion for a new trial or a judgment of acquittal under Rules 29(c) and 33(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure on February 10, 2017. (Dkt. No. 916.) He argues the Government failed to establish the interstate commerce nexus required by § 247(a)(2). Defendant also argues the alleged violations of §§ 247(a)(2) and 249(a)(1) are not crimes of violence within the meaning of § 924(c)(3). Defendant's motion does not challenge his convictions under § 249(a)(1).

II. Legal Standards

A. Rule 29(c) Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal

Rule 29(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits a defendant to move for a judgment of acquittal. The Court must determine "whether there is substantial evidence (direct or circumstantial) which, taken in the light most favorable to the prosecution, would warrant a jury finding that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. MacCloskey , 682 F.2d 468, 473 (4th Cir. 1982). "The jury's verdict must be accepted if, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. United Med. & Surgical Supply Corp. , 989 F.2d 1390, 1402 (4th Cir. 1993).

B. Rule 33 Motion for a New Trial

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) permits a court, upon a defendant's motion, to "vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Whether a defendant gets a new trial is left to the trial court's discretion. United States v. Smith , 451 F.3d 209, 216–17 (4th Cir. 2006). The Fourth Circuit has held that a trial court "should exercise its discretion to grant a new trial sparingly, and that it should do so only when the evidence weighs heavily against the verdict." United States v. Perry , 335 F.3d 316, 320 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where the evidence in the record is sufficient to support the jury's verdict, a Rule 33 motion must be denied. United States v. Singh , 518 F.3d 236, 250 (4th Cir. 2008).

III. Discussion

A. Section 247(a)'s Interstate Commerce Nexus

The Commerce Clause delegates to Congress the power "[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several

252 F.Supp.3d 472

States, and with the Indian Tribes." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3. The Necessary and Proper Clause authorizes Congress "[t]o make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers," which include the Commerce Clause. U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 18. The Supreme Court has "identified three broad categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power": (1) the use and channels of interstate commerce; (2) the instrumentalities of interstate commerce; and (3) those activities having substantial relations to interstate commerce. United States v. Lopez , 514 U.S. 549, 558–59, 115 S.Ct. 1624, 131 L.Ed.2d 626 (1995).

Defendant was convicted of multiple violations of the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104–155 § 3, 110 Stat. 1392, 1392–93 (1996) (codified at 28 U.S.C. sec. 247(a)) (the "Church Arson Act"). Section 247 provides, in relevant part,

(a) Whoever, in any of the circumstances referred to in subsection (b) of this section—

...

(2) intentionally obstructs, by force or threat of force, any person in the enjoyment of that person's free exercise of religious beliefs, or attempts to do so;

shall be punished as provided in subsection (d).

(b) The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the offense is in or affects interstate or foreign commerce.

Defendant argues that because his offense was noneconomic, because he did not travel in interstate commerce to commit it, and because he used items purchased in South Carolina, the Government failed to establish that the offense—that is, the intentional, forcible obstruction of the free exercise of religion—was in or affected interstate commerce. (Dkt. No. 916 at 2–5.) This argument repeats Defendant's pretrial as-applied constitutional challenge to § 247(a)(2). (See Dkt. No. 735 at 25 ("According to Defendant, a noneconomic crime in South Carolina, committed by a South Carolina resident, and using items purchased in South Carolina, lacks an interstate commerce nexus.... The alleged nexuses with interstate commerce are sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.").)

At trial, the Government presented evidence that Defendant attacked parishioners at Mother Emanuel during a Wednesday-night Bible study. Defendant used the internet to conduct research and identify Mother Emanuel as his target, a telephone to contact the church directly, and GPS navigation satellites to navigate interstate highways on his multiple trips to and from the vicinity of the church. He used a Russia-based service to host the online manifesto he posted shortly before the attack at Mother Emanuel, which explained his motives. In preparation for the attack, Defendant purchased hollow-point bullets, magazines, and a firearm that had all travelled in interstate commerce. Defendant entered Mother Emanuel carrying the firearm and loaded magazines in a tactical pouch that had travelled in interstate commerce. Inside the church, Defendant used the items he procured to kill nine parishioners. Defendant presented no evidence to counter this evidence, and a rational fact-finder viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government could conclude that the Government established an interstate commerce nexus. See, e.g., United States v. Morgan , 748 F.3d 1024, 1034 (10th Cir. 2014) (holding that a GPS device is an instrumentality of interstate commerce); United States v. MacEwan , 445 F.3d 237, 245 (3d Cir. 2006) ("[T]he Internet is an instrumentality and channel of interstate commerce."); United States v. Corum , 362 F.3d 489, 493 (8th Cir. 2004) ("It is well-established that telephones, even when used intrastate, are instrumentalities

252 F.Supp.3d 473

of interstate commerce."); United States v. Gallimore , 247 F.3d 134, 138 (4th Cir. 2001) ("[T]he Government may establish the requisite interstate commerce nexus by showing that a firearm was manufactured outside the state where the defendant possessed it."); United States v. Mason , 993 F.Supp.2d 1308, 1317 (D. Or. 2014) (rejecting a pretrial as-applied challenge to a § 249 claim because the Government alleged that the weapon used in the attack traveled in interstate...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 practice notes
  • Zhang Jingrong v. Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance, 15–CV–1046
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • May 30, 2018
    ...Courts have relied on these jurisdictional elements in affirming Congress' power to pass them. See, e.g. , United States v. Roof , 252 F.Supp.3d 469 (D.S.C. 2017) (denying motion for a new trial or judgment of acquittal under § 247 and § 249 and rejecting a commerce challenge to § 247 ); Un......
  • United States v. Beckham, NO. 3:18-cr-00075-1
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • July 3, 2019
    ...allegedly used traveled in interstate or foreign commerce, the jurisdictional element will be satisfied"); United States v. Roof, 252 F. Supp. 3d 469, 473 (D.S.C. 2017) (describing Mason as "rejecting a pretrial as-applied challenge to a § 249 claim because the Government alleged that the w......
  • United States v. Bowers, CR 18-292
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • October 16, 2020
    ...violence under § 924(c)." Id. at 459-60 (emphasis in original). The Court later reaffirmed its conclusions. Cf. United States v. Roof, 252 F. Supp. 3d 469, 474-76 (D.S.C. 2017). I find the analyses in Roof persuasive, and conclude that each pertinent statute has as an element the use, attem......
3 cases
  • Zhang Jingrong v. Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance, 15–CV–1046
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • May 30, 2018
    ...Courts have relied on these jurisdictional elements in affirming Congress' power to pass them. See, e.g. , United States v. Roof , 252 F.Supp.3d 469 (D.S.C. 2017) (denying motion for a new trial or judgment of acquittal under § 247 and § 249 and rejecting a commerce challenge to § 247 ); Un......
  • United States v. Beckham, NO. 3:18-cr-00075-1
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • July 3, 2019
    ...allegedly used traveled in interstate or foreign commerce, the jurisdictional element will be satisfied"); United States v. Roof, 252 F. Supp. 3d 469, 473 (D.S.C. 2017) (describing Mason as "rejecting a pretrial as-applied challenge to a § 249 claim because the Government alleged that the w......
  • United States v. Bowers, CR 18-292
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • October 16, 2020
    ...violence under § 924(c)." Id. at 459-60 (emphasis in original). The Court later reaffirmed its conclusions. Cf. United States v. Roof, 252 F. Supp. 3d 469, 474-76 (D.S.C. 2017). I find the analyses in Roof persuasive, and conclude that each pertinent statute has as an element the use, attem......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT