USA: JUDGE GRANTS DYLANN ROOF'S REQUEST TO REPRESENT HIMSELF IN FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY TRIAL
November 28, 2016: U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel granted a request from Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old charged with the murders of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to represent himself in his federal capital trial. Judge Gergel described Roof's decision as âstrategically unwise,â but said, âIt is a decision you have the right to make.â
A criminal defendant's right to self-representation was established by the Supreme Court in 1975 in Farretta v. California, a non-capital case where the Court held that a defendant may waive his right to counsel provided such waiver is knowing, voluntarily, and intelligent. Monday morning, Roof told Judge Gergel he understood his attorneys have skills and experience he may not have, but he wanted to self-represent as his attorneys serve as stand-by counsel. Jury selection was scheduled to begin on Nov. 7, but was suspended after Roof's lawyers moved to have the suspect analyzed by a doctor who could determine whether or not he was suffering a "mental disease or defect" that may make him unable to understand what was going on in court. Court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. James Ballenger reported on Roof's competency in a 2-day hearing last week. Proceedings happened away from the public and the media, but documents filed on Friday declared that Judge Gergel found Roof competent to stand trial. Jury selection is set to begin on November 28th, with 516 potential jurors reporting to the courthouse for questioning.
After Roof's federal trial, the state of South Carolina also plans to try him. He faces a death sentence in both trials.
While the Supreme Court has not addressed whether a capital defendant may waive his right to counsel, death penalty experts have argued that such defendants should not be allowed to represent themselves, because of the complexity of capital cases and the finality of the sentence.
Last year, a Kansas judge permitted White Supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross to represent himself in a case in which he was charged with murders at a Kansas City Jewish Community Center. His lawyers had intended to present a mental health defense to the murders.
After a controversial trial punctuated by outbursts by the defendant, the jury sentenced Cross to death. (Source: Associated Press, WCSC news, 28/11/2016)