why is Dylann Roof charged with Federal Crimes

CNN article here:

At what point does something like this killing make it a Federal crime vs. a state crime?
Most murders are charged with state crimes, what tips the balance in general, and specifically for this case that would make it a Federal crime where the US govt takes over instead of leaving it to S. Carolina or other respective states.
I guess I’m also asking about clearly defined statutes as well as more politically attractive motivations

Is this being treated as a hate crime or terrorist attack? Both of those are federal offenses.

From your link…

Roof, who is white, is charged with 33 federal offenses, including hate crime charges for allegedly targeting his victims on the basis of their race and religion. A judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf in July 2015.
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So why this particular one as a federal crime? States have “hate crime” statutes. People have murdered before and been charged only in the state for their crimes including hate crimes. Why specifically is this one sufficient to bring in the feds, when others are not? what, in general, will garner the interest of the feds sometimes and not others.

South Carolina doesn’t.

No hate crime laws in S.C. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

so is it the case where if a state doesn’t have a hate crime statute the feds come in? I would think there are plenty of crimes in S.C. that the Feds would consider a Hate Crime, but they don’t get involved in those other cases. Again, why this one in particular and not the others that would meet the Federal standard of a hate crime?

However, the article states that South Carolina is seeking the death penalty for the murders … my question is why are the Feds getting involved adding superfluous “hate crime” tag … do they plan on trying and executing Roof’s dead body?

This was a horrific crime, I can see why the Feds want to prosecute it. In many cases (drug crimes for example) the case could be prosecuted in state or Federal court. [In theory, they could be prosecuted in both systems, but that very rarely happens.] Deciding whether or not to step in and prosecute a crime is a routine job in the US Attorneys’ offices.

There are many factors. Ease of prosecution is a factor. No prosecutor wants to go out of his/her way to grap a high profile case that they could lose. Politics can be a factor. Budget issues come into play. Ambition of the local US Attorney perhaps (i.e., personal politics)

At what point does it become ‘horrific’ to be a Federal crime? 2 murders? 7? 3 murders in a church? 2 child murders in a school? a 22 year old drug dealer in the street?

I’m getting the impression that there isn’t a clear guideline and the level to bring it to federal court is fuzzy. WHich to me makes it more of a political reason than a truly objective statute defined reason. Is that the take home message?

Yes. There is no “objective” standard. Some the DOJ and some individual US Attorneys have “guidelines” to help their staff make such decisions, but in a case like this, guidelines go out the window and someone just decides.

Your questions imply that there is some problem with a system where a particular act could land you in either state or federal court, without clear and objective guidelines. While I am troubled by how this might operate in certain cases, I don’t see why it matters much in a murder prosecution.

*An example where the system seems “unfair” to me is where a convicted marijuana grower might get 60 to 90 *days *in state court, and 5 *years * (or more) mandatory in federal court. For the exact same crime, and based only on the whim of the local federal prosecutor to take the case or let the state DA handle it.

No, there is a clear guideline, set out in the US Attorneys’ Manual, which is the policy manual issued by the Department of Justice to guide US Attorneys (the federal equivalent to a District Attorney) in carrying out their duties.

In particular, in the section dealing with civil rights, there is this clear directive:


• Cases of national interest will be prosecuted by the US Attorney;

• The US Attorneys Manual provides a detailed set of principles to determine if a case is of national interest;

• Breach of a federal civil rights statute that involves death is always a matter of national interest;

•The final call on whether a case is a matter of national interest lies with the Assistant Attorney General responsible for civil rights in the DOJ in Washington, not in the discretion of the local US Attorney.

So to answer the OP: Dylann Roof is alleged to have broken a federal civil rights law that involved the death of one or more people, and therefore it is a matter of national interest, to be prosecuted under federal law.

The traditional reason was that a lot of these hate crimes against Blacks were not being prosecuted by local officials when the law was passed in 1968.

So it’s just up to the whim and fancy of the Federal prosecutors … cool … if their actions stop just one person from doing this again … it’ll be an effort well worth the cost.

Hate crime laws don’t prevent crime, of course. It’s just political back-patting.

"Hey there fellow neo-nazi, shall we go assault some black folk this fine eve?

…nein, compadre. We’re better off finding a white dude lest we receive extra punishment for a hate crime."

If I’m not mistaken, that provision of the US Attorney’s Manual is delineating whether a prosecution can be carried out by a US Attorney’s Office vs. when Main Justice must be involved. In other words, who within the Department will handle a prosecution, if there is to be one – not whether or not to prosecute.

By that logic, no laws prevent serious crimes, since crime still happens.

Well duh, no laws prevent crime (ETA: as EOD pointed out). What I think you may have been trying to say is that hate crime laws don’t deter crime.

Whether or not that’s true (and I don’t know of any studies that have been done on it), AFAIK the fundamental point of hate crime statutes is not deterrence per se, but rather the same principle as in anti-terrorism penalties.

That is, hate crimes, like terrorism, are acts that combine the actual damage done to the direct victims with implied or stated threats against other members of the group(s) the victims identify with. They’re an attempt to make all members of the group(s) afraid to exercise their ordinary rights.

That’s why beating up somebody specifically for being black or gay or whatever is worse than beating up somebody because you lost your temper when he insulted your hometown sports team, or whatever. It’s that extra dimension of deliberate intimidation added on to plain old arbitrary violence that hate-crime statutes exist to track and punish.

You can see this effect in what I believe was one of the first “hate crime laws” in the modern US, the provision of the 1968 Civil Rights Act

Obviously, “attempting to interfere with another person by force” is not necessarily a major crime if, say, you’re shoving them out of the way so you can beat them to the last piece of angelica cake at the church picnic. But if you’re shoving somebody away from the door of the polling place, and making it very clear that you don’t think “his kind” ought to be exercising their legal voting rights around these parts, that is a whole next level of “interfering with someone by force”.

It’s that aspect of menace, intimidation and oppression, added on to the actual violent deeds, that hate-crime and anti-terrorism laws are addressing.

Of course not. We mete punishment as seems befitting of the crime. Punishing “hate” crimes more harshly serves only the political sensibilities. I guess that makes some sleep safer at night. I pity them.