On June 17, 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people worshipping inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly a year later, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that, in light of Roof’s crimes, the Department of Justice would pursue the death penalty. But now Roof’s lawyers are challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.
According to Buzzfeed, this motion was filed on Monday, August 1, arguing that “this Court should rule that the federal death penalty constitutes a legally prohibited, by both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments.” The lawyers claim that both the death penalty and the federal death penalty law are unconstitutional:
“[T]he [Federal Death Penalty Act] may have been designed with as much care as possible under the circumstances, the capital sentencing process that the statute provides is constitutionally inadequate in practice...The results of the jurors’ good-faith grappling with the law—arbitrary, biased, and erroneous death verdicts—are intolerable as a matter of due process and proportional punishment.”
The lawyers also point out that the practice of selecting a jury that requires “death qualification” cannot be controlled for prejudice. Those who conscientiously object are merely disqualified.
Roof initially offered to plead guilty in return for a lighter punishment: multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole. However, the federal government rejected this request, and as of now the death penalty remains on the table. Roof’s lawyers explain that they would not have pursued this issue of constitutionality if the government had granted Roof the plea bargain.
You can read the filing in its entirety here.