United States v. Roof

Decision Date05 December 2016
Docket NumberCriminal No. 2:15–472–RMG
Citation225 F.Supp.3d 438
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Dylann Storm ROOF.

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

David I. Bruck, Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, Washington and Lee School of Law, Lexington, VA, Teresa Lynn Norris, Blume Norris and Franklin–Best, Emily Paavola, 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.


Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment (Dkt. No. 233). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion.

I. Background

On the evening of June 17, 2015, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney led a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church ("Mother Emanuel"), attended by eleven other participants. (Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 7.) All were African–Americans. (Id. ) Allegedly, Defendant Dylann Roof had decided to murder Africans–American while they worshipped in church to resist racial integration and to avenge wrongs committed against white people—and chose Mother Emanuel as his target because of its national prominence as the first independent African–American congregation in the South. (See id. ¶¶ 3–6.) That evening, he entered Mother Emanuel with a concealed Glock pistol and several magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets. (Id. ¶ 8.) The worshippers welcomed him into their Bible study group. (Id. ¶ 9) After being welcomed to join them in prayer, he drew his pistol and murdered the Reverend Sharonda Coleman–Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Reverend DePayne Middleton–Doctor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr., and Myra Thompson, and attempted Felicia Sanders, Polly Sheppard, and a child, K.M. (Id. ¶¶ 9–10.)

A month later, a federal grand jury returned a 33–count indictment charging Defendant with multiple counts of five 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 violence prosecutable in federal court, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and (j).
(Dkt. No. 1.)

Defendant has moved to dismiss the indictment. (Dkt. No. 233.) He argues § 249 is an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority under the Thirteenth Amendment, § 247 is an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, and the alleged violations of §§ 247 and 249 are not crimes of violence within the meaning of § 924(c).

II. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss an indictment tests whether the indictment sufficiently charges the offense the defendant is accused of committing.

United States v. Vanderhorst , 2 F.Supp.3d 792, 795 (D.S.C. 2014). Generally, a district court may not dismiss an indictment on a determination of facts: "a challenge to the sufficiency of the indictment ... is ordinarily limited to the allegations contained in the indictment." United States v. Engle , 676 F.3d 405, 415 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). To obtain dismissal of an indictment, therefore, a defendant must show the allegations, even if true, fail to state an offense. United States v. Thomas , 367 F.3d 194, 197 (4th Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion
A. Charges Under 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1)

The Thirteenth Amendment, Section 1, provides, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Section 2 of the Amendment provides Congress "power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." The Supreme Court has held Section 2 "clothed Congress with power to pass all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States ." Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. , 392 U.S. 409, 439, 88 S.Ct. 2186, 20 L.Ed.2d 1189 (1968) (quoting Civil Rights Cases , 109 U.S. 3, 20, 3 S.Ct. 18, 27 L.Ed. 835 (1883) ) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Section 4707 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (the "Hate Crimes Act"), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 249, in relevant part provides,

Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—
(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life ... if—
(i) death results from the offense; or
(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1).1 When enacting the Hate Crimes Act, Congress found

(7) For generations, the institutions of slavery and involuntary servitude were defined by the race, color, and ancestry of those held in bondage. Slavery and involuntary servitude were enforced, both prior to and after the adoption of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, through widespread public and private violence directed at persons because of their race, color, or ancestry, or perceived race, color, or ancestry. Accordingly, eliminating racially motivated violence is an important means of eliminating, to the extent possible, the badges, incidents, and relics of slavery and involuntary servitude.

Hate Crimes Act, Pub. L. 111–84, div. E, § 4702, 123 Stat. 2835, 2836 (Oct. 28, 2009). Congress also found that "[s]tate and local authorities are now and will continue to be responsible for prosecuting the overwhelming majority of violent crimes in the United States, including violent crimes motivated by bias." Id. Hence the Attorney General must certify that state authorities have no jurisdiction over an offense, that state authorities have requested a federal prosecution, that a state prosecution has failed, or that a federal "prosecution is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice" before prosecuting an offense under § 249. 18 U.S.C. § 249(b)(1).

Defendant argues Counts 1–12 of the indictment, which charge violations of § 249(a)(1), are invalid for two reasons: Congress exceeded its authority under Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment when enacting § 249(a)(1) and the Attorney General's certification in this case is invalid. For the reasons set forth below, the Court holds that the Thirteenth Amendment authorizes § 249(a)(1) and that the Attorney General's certification in this case is valid.

1. Constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1)

Defendant raises two distinct arguments against the constitutionality of § 249(a)(1). First, he argues § 249(a)(1) is not "appropriate legislation" enforcing the Thirteenth Amendment "[b]ecause it fails to respect the [states'] police power" by regulating conduct that states traditionally regulate. (Dkt. No. 233 at 16.) Second, he presents a means-ends rationality argument: "Because of its lack of relationship to effectuating the goals of § 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment, Section 249(a)(1) is not authorized by § 2 [of the Thirteenth Amendment]." (Id. at 20.) Both arguments share the common factual premise that there was "no need for federal intervention" because states were adequately punishing racially motivated crimes. (Id. at 17.) The first argument implies an additional factual premise that § 249(a)(1) somehow interferes with state police powers to conclude that § 249(a)(1) violates a rule against unjustified interference with state police powers. The second argument essentially argues for application of the City of Boerne v. Flores "congruence and proportionality" test to legislation enforcing the Thirteenth Amendment and concludes § 249(a)(1) lacks the requisite "congruence" to Section 1 of the Amendment. (Seeid. at 19–20.)

The Court finds no merit in Defendant's federalism argument. Defendant does not attempt to explain how § 249(a)(1)"fails to respect" states' police powers. "Federal laws criminalizing conduct within traditional areas of state law, whether the states criminalize the same conduct or decline to criminalize it, are of course commonplace under the dual-sovereign concept and involve no infringement per se of states' sovereignty in the administration of their criminal laws." United States v. Johnson , 114 F.3d 476, 481 (4th Cir. 1997). Indeed, Congress intended the Hate Crimes Act to assist states' efforts against hate crimes and found that federal jurisdiction over hate crimes would assist those efforts:

(3) State and local authorities are now and will continue to be responsible for prosecuting the overwhelming majority of violent crimes in the United States, including violent crimes motivated by bias. These authorities can carry out their responsibilities more effectively with greater Federal assistance.
(9) Federal jurisdiction over certain violent crimes motivated by

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