The tragedy in South Carolina has raised some questions about federal and state criminal procedure. Dylann Roof stands accused of killing nine African Americans in a mid-June shooting spree at a South Carolina church, and both the state and the federal prosecutors have filed charges against him. Why is the federal government prosecuting? And, how is it possible for Roof to be charged twice for the same criminal act?
There are several factors that determine whether the state or the federal courts — or both, for that matter — hear and decide a criminal matter. Some of the factors are fairly straightforward; others require a more complicated analysis. But before we go any further, let’s just recap what happened.
According to authorities, Roof joined a Bible study group in Charleston’s predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. About an hour after he arrived, he opened fire. Eight people died at the scene, and another died later that night; three people were injured. Authorities identified Roof as their prime suspect and alerted law enforcement agencies in the area to be on the lookout for him.
The morning of June 18, North Carolina police received a tip that led them to Roof. They arrested the 21-year-old without incident, and, soon after, he reportedly confessed to the crime. Officers returned him to South Carolina, where he was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possessing a firearm in the commission of a deadly crime. Two weeks later, a grand jury added three counts of attempted murder to the charges.
Where do the federal charges come in? We’ll explain in our next post.
Washington Post, “Accused Charleston church gunman pleads not guilty but plans to plead guilty to federal hate crime charges,” Jeremy Borden, July 31, 2015
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