Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of the 2015 murder of nine members from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, is taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Roof’s attorneys, who are appealing his conviction, have asked the Supreme Court to rule on how to handle conflicts between capital defendants and their attorneys over evidence related to mental illness.
In some instances, such as the Roof case, a capital defendant may be deemed competent to stand trial. However, in a recently filed petition last month, Roof’s legal team questions should an attorney “disagree on whether to present mitigating evidence depicting him as mentally ill, who gets the final say?” Thus, the attorney’s request that the court “is needed to resolve a deep divide among the lower courts over who — client or lawyer — gets to decide whether mitigation evidence will be introduced at a capital penalty hearing.”
In 2017, Roof dismissed his legal team during the penalty phase of his death penalty trial, instead deciding to represent himself. With this decision the jury was not able to hear evidence about his mental health, preventing a possible death penalty punishment.
According to the legal team “after the district court told him that counsel could introduce evidence depicting him as mentally ill over his objection” Roof made this decision because he believed “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental impairments out of the public record.”
However, his attorneys noted that there is a disconnect between how such cases have been handled in the 4th Circuit and other courts stating, “the vast majority of state and federal courts hold otherwise, leaving this deeply personal choice to a defendant…Had Roof been tried in any one of those majority jurisdictions, he would not have been forced to self-represent at his capital trial to block his own attorneys from presenting evidence he abhorred.”
Roof’s conviction and death sentence were affirmed by an appellate panel last year after a unanimous vote.
Roof may file what’s known as a 2255 appeal, which is a request that the court reexamines his conviction and sentence to ensure that they are constitutional, in the unlikely event that he fails in his direct appeal. He might also petition for a presidential pardon if he does not succeed in his appeal.
By the end of the month, the government is due to respond to the request by Roof and his legal team.