Choosing to Represent Oneself …

Posted by Jessica Travis in Criminal Law Blog











 Choosing to Represent Oneself Could be a Costly Mistake: The Case of Dylann Roof

By Jessica Travis on Friday, January 30, 2017

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina and sat in on a bible study group. After sitting with the group for 40 minutes, and during a time of prayer, he pulled out a gun and began shooting, firing off over 70 rounds, killing nine people. After the shooting, he showed no remorse for what he had done, stated he was a white supremacist, and claimed that he had to do it, hoping to incite a race war.

Roof pled not guilty to the 33 federal charges against him. During the trial, Roof and his defense team did not call any witnesses and Roof did not take the stand in his defense. The jury was shown a video of Roof’s confession to the mass shooting that he gave to FBI agents after he was taken into custody. His trial lasted almost a week, and on December 15, 2016, after two hours of deliberations, the jury found him guilty of all 33 federal charges, including hate crime charges.

The prosecutor decided to seek the death penalty, and against the court’s recommendations, Roof chose to represent himself for the

sentencing phase of his trial, firing his attorneys. Before Roof’s sentencing hearing, the court-appointed attorneys working on his defense, filed a motion, requesting the court deem Roof incompetent to represent himself for his sentencing hearing. However, the Judge ruled that Roof was competent to stand trial and to represent himself.

Roof’s sentencing hearing was held on January 10, 2017. During the sentencing hearing, Roof did not present any witnesses, or provide any evidence, while the prosecution called multiple witnesses. Roof did not cross-examine or any of the prosecutor’s witnesses during the sentencing hearing. The prosecutor gave a two-hour closing statement asking for the death penalty. For his closing statement, Roof spoke for only five-minutes, reminding jurors that they had the option to give him a life sentence instead of the death penalty. During his closing argument Roof said, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.” After only three hours of deliberation, the jury recommended the death penalty for Roof, making him the first person to be given the death penalty for a hate crime in Federal Court. Roof is also set to be tried on state murder charges, where he could potentially be given another death penalty sentence in State Court.

When a person chooses to represent themselves, the Trial Judge must go through and ensure that they understand the law and what it means to represent themselves. People who are representing themselves, are expected to follow all of the rules of the court and follow all procedures as a lawyer would, even though they have not been trained or educated in the rules and procedures of the legal system. This lack of legal knowledge, can sometimes lead to worse results for individuals representing themselves.

When someone has been charged with a crime, it is often in that person’s best interest to hire an attorney and not chose to represent themselves. A person representing him or herself is at a disadvantage in court. Hiring an experienced attorney that knows the rules and procedures of the court and legal system, and can properly argue the case can generally obtain a much better result than someone who chooses to represent themselves. Failure to have adequate representation could potentially cost a person much more than just attorney fees, it could, in some cases, cost them their life.

co-authored by Patricia Blotzer

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