We are picking up where we left off in our last post. Dylann Roof is the young man who opened fire during a Bible study session at a Charleston, South Carolina church. Nine people died and three were injured. All of the victims were African American, and Roof has alluded to his hope that the shootings would start a race war. Roof now faces charges at both the state and federal levels.
The U.S. Department of Justice was involved very early in the investigation. Within hours of the shootings, federal authorities, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, were talking to the press about treating the killings as a hate crime or an act of terrorism.
A couple of weeks later, a federal grand jury handed up a 33 count indictment. Roof is charged with murder and attempted murder based on the victims’ race. In addition to being a hate crime, the killings were also a violation of the victim’s right to practice their religion. Finally, the indictment also included weapons charges.
The federal government can pursue a parallel case against Roof because he is accused of breaking a federal law. Broadly speaking, federal courts deal with federal laws, and state courts deal with state laws. Because this crime occurred in South Carolina, Roof is accused of violating state laws; the South Carolina court system has the authority to adjudicate the case.
However, like Indiana, South Carolina does not have a hate crime law. The federal government does. The Justice Department apparently believed that, in the interest of justice, the particulars of the crime demanded a more specific charge, one that more closely met Roof’s alleged intention to start a race war.
So, here, then, we have one example of why parallel prosecutions may occur: The two court systems are prosecuting one person for different crimes that arose from the same act. Please note, though, that this is just one example. There are other situations that could find a suspect dealing with both state and federal charges, but they are material for future posts.
ABC News, “Dylann Roof Indicted on Federal Hate Crime Charges in Charleston Church Massacre, Court Documents Say,” Pierre Thomas and Jack Cloherty, July 22, 2015
Washington Post, “Accused Charleston church gunman pleads not guilty but plans to plead guilty to federal hate crime charges,” Jeremy Borden, July 31, 2015