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Max Fleishman

Suspected Charleston shooter’s lawyers ask federal court to drop all charges

They say the charges are unconstitutional.


Alexandra Samuels


Posted on Jul 6, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 12:11 pm CDT

On Tuesday, attorneys for the man authorities believe is responsible for a mass shooting in South Carolina filed a request for a dismissal of the federal charges brought against their client, claiming the charges are unconstitutional and should be left to state authorities.

Dylann Roof is charged with the June 2015 murders of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. During a weekly Bible study at the church, Roof, then 21, allegedly opened fire with a handgun and killed the attending parishioners. 

Roof faces a total of 33 federal charges, including use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence, nine counts of murder, and hate crime acts resulting in death. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. 

The federal indictment claims that Roof placed a manuscript and photos on a website expressing his racist beliefs, that he chose to attack the Emanuel AME Church because it had a predominately black membership, that Roof attacked African-Americans to increase racial tensions, and more. 

His attorneys, however, are arguing the case should be handled by state authorities, saying the federal government is “exceeding their grounds” under the Commerce Clause and Thirteenth amendment by indicting Roof. They also say the case violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. 

“The charges at issue are extremely grave, but under the Constitution they are not properly charged,” one of Roof’s attorneys, Sarah Gannett, said, according to Tuscon News Now. “The defendant therefore requests that the indictment be dismissed.”

According to Roof’s lawyers, the wish for dismissal is only being made because federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

“Before setting out these constitutional claims, counsel wish to emphasize that this motion is being made only because the statutes at issue form the basis of the government’s request for the death penalty,” the motion reads. 

If the government withdraws the death penalty, Roof’s lawyers say he will plead guilty to all counts in the indictment.

Unlike other federal cases where state prosecution is dismissed in favor of federal prosecution, or where the federal case is charged after the state case, the federal and state cases here were charged simultaneously, WCBD reports. In both cases, Roof faces a the death penalty or life in prison without release.

Jury selection for Roof’s federal trial is scheduled to start on Nov. 7. The state case is scheduled for trial on Jan. 17, 2017. 

Read the full request below, courtesy of Tuscon News Now:

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*First Published: Jul 6, 2016, 3:18 pm CDT