Dylann Roof Representing Himself in Penalty Phase of Trial

The penalty phase of 22-year-old Dylann Roof’s trial began on recently. Roof has been convicted of the June 17, 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which killed nine people. He has elected to represent himself in the sentencing phase and delivered his opening statement on Wednesday, January 4, 2017. Criminal defense attorney Paul Cambria spoke to WBEN about the case and the dangers of representing yourself at trial. The full interview is available on the WBEN website.

Self-representation not always effective

When asked how he foresees this portion of Roof’s trial going, Mr. Cambria responded that “it’s certainly not going to be very effective.” He went on to say that “the judge always appoints a standby lawyer to advise, but the penalty phase is very complicated.” Mr. Cambria told WBEN that a number of professionals, including a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a sociologist, may be called in order to testify and try to mitigate the death penalty. “It’s a very important and a very complicated phase and a layperson, let alone an attorney, will have a very difficult time,” he explained.

Roof has said that, throughout the sentencing phase, he does not plan to call witnesses or offer any evidence. Mr. Cambria told WBEN that, despite this, he will still be able to question witnesses that the prosecution brings. “There’s a possibility that jurors could, in some way, feel sorry for him and not impose the death penalty, but the chances of that are so reduced compared to having skilled, learned counsel,” he went on.

Unusual in death penalty cases

When asked if he could recall any cases like this one where the defendant elected to represent themselves, Mr. Cambria responded that people represent themselves in many cases but that no death penalty cases come to mind. “Every day there are people who represent themselves,” he explained. “They think they can just get up and explain things in the guilt phase of the case, and it doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Cambria continued. “Rules of evidence are complicated and it takes many years to become a skillful trial lawyer, let alone being a layperson trying to do that job.”

About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.

The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.