The Right to Council
In June 2015, Dylann Roof killed nine people inside an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. He faces 33 charges, including nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act and three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act with an attempt to kill, nine counts of exercise of religion resulting in death, three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill, and nine counts of using a firearm to commit murder. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
In a trial with such high stakes, Roof has made an interesting choice: he will represent himself during the trial.
The Right to Council
Even though Roof’s crime is horrible, he is still entitled to an attorney. According to the Constitution, an accused person in a criminal case has the right to an attorney. If the defendant cannot find someone willing to represent them, or cannot afford an attorney, the court appoints someone to their case.
An attorney will perform all the necessary acts of a trial, like investigating evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making any objections. More importantly, the appointed attorney explains the defendant’s rights to them, and ensures that their constitutional rights are not violated. In violent cases like Roof’s, it is difficult to imagine anyone arguing in his defense. However, he still has the right to a fair trial and representation.
While Roof has these constitutional rights, he can still choose to represent himself. While his attorneys and the presiding judge consider his decision unwise, he is mentally competent, and can represent himself.
A Smart Decision?
It is generally advisable to hire an attorney for legal matters. They have experience with gathering evidence, finding witnesses, and if necessary, selecting an impartial jury. An attorney also knows the nuances of the law, and has a greater grasp on legal concepts than a non-lawyer. It is possible to represent yourself in court and emerge successfully, but these cases are rare.
Roof’s trial takes place in January 2017.
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