The New York Times has reported that the U.S. Department of Justice will most likely file federal hate crime charges against Dylann Roof, the suspect of the shooting that occurred this week at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof is currently facing nine counts of murder and may face the death penalty in South Carolina state court. However, the Department of Justice and the FBI have agreed that the shooting was racially motivated and that federal charges must also be brought.
FBI analysts have established with “a high degree of certainty” that Roof created a website where he posted a racist manifesto. It was established that the website was initially registered under his name, but that he removed his name and made the registration anonymous the next day.
Generally, when a case involves violations of both state and federal laws, federal charges are not brought. The case against Dylann Roof is unique because South Carolina does not have any law prohibiting hate or racially motivated crimes. The Department of Justice is choosing to step in here because if Roof faced only murder charges, the hate crime component would not be addressed. One Department of Justice Official said that “this directly fits the hate crime statute. This is exactly what it was created for.” The charges are not yet official, as many details of the case have yet to be resolved. Though the federal charges are not yet official, Roof has been assigned two federal public defenders, in addition to the state public defenders assigned to defend him on his pending state charges.
The manifesto Roof posted on his website reads: “I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone; go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” On the same website, 60 photos were found that demonstrated Roof was motivated by race and hate to commit this crime. For example, one of the photos showed him holding a Confederate flag in one hand, and a gun in the other. The FBI is still working on piecing all the information together.
South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, has called for Roof to face the death penalty. However, the penalty for violation of the hate crime statute does not carry a potential death sentence; the penalty is up to life in prison. If both Federal and State charges are brought, prosecutors will attempt to align the penalties the defendant may face, so that one legal body does not undermine the other. It remains to be seen how this will be reconciled, and what charges Dylann Roof will face for his atrocities.