Before We Kill Dylann Roof Let’s At Least Pretend To Give Him A Fair Process.

I don’t want Dylann Roof to die. I know that if anybody in the country right now deserves to die, it’s probably Dylann Roof.

However, killing him is putting a seal-of-approval on the legal journey that led him to death row. From the police investigation, to the pretrial motions, trial and death sentencing hearing, we shouldn’t give ourselves the power to kill people if they haven’t had the benefit of an accurate and precise system at every step of the way.

That’s common-sense thinking, right?

Blame it on the science.

The confluence of law and science can make for murky, turbulent, rough waters.  One one hand, it can be straightforward and easy.  On the other hand, there’s no shortage of sham science that’s made its way into courtrooms.  There’s plenty of great reading on the subject. It scares scientists.

There’s never more uncertainty than when courts utilize soft sciences such as Psychology and Psychiatry.

The Fool’s Errand.

Dylann Roof is representing himself in a legal hearing to determine whether or not he dies. He’s saying things no lawyer would ever say in his defense.   He’s on the fast track to the death penalty.  We are watching.

I’m scared.

His lawyers, seeing this coming, tried to have him declared unfit to represent himself. A single expert’s report, based on two meetings with Roof, defeated that attempt. Had it not, a lawyer would be fighting this legal battle for him.

I don’t have a problem with people representing themselves and feeling the consequences of their own poor efforts.  They’ve got the right to do that.  The freedom to make bad decisions is as American as guns and hacky sack.

On the other hand, fitness-to-stand-trial is a convoluted, uncertain decision where a non-expert judge relies on written reports and testimony of expert psychiatrists and psychologists who may-or-may not be correct (but will all readily admit that their chosen discipline is not an exact science).


The world of experts, in general, is a dirty world the public as a whole either doesn’t care about or doesn’t want to know about. For many matters the government will have no problem finding an expert to testify to the conclusion they’d like to see.  Same for the defense attorney.

I can find an expert to poke holes in every breath test that’s ever been administrated.   And the government will have no problems finding one to bolster each result.  Get into the soft sciences and it’s even easier to find experts to go either way.

That’s not to say either side is lying, either. That is to say that no science is 100% certain for a variety of reasons.

Yet, there atop the legal pulpit, is a judge who gets to listen to it all and decide which expert/evaluation/side is “correct”- even when the science itself isn’t absolute.

The Fear of Too Much Justice.

A fair system wouldn’t work like this. A fair system, where we could condemn people to death without hesitation or question, wouldn’t have both sides fighting the fitness of a client based upon a single Psychiatrist’s report. A system concerned with accuracy wouldn’t look like what Dylann Roof is going through.

This system is stuck in the stone ages.  Science has advanced. Our process has not.

There’s a better way. Perhaps two experts could have been drafted to evaluate Dyann roof. Those experts could confer and select a third expert. Each of those three experts could do a report.  Those three experts reports could then be submit to three additional, independent experts to review the reports and write a single paper explaining to the judge why any one of the original experts reports should or should not be adopted by the court.

At least then there’d be six experts with eyes on the problem. There’d be less guessing or, at least, more informed discussion on how the guessing should go. There’d be more science. There’d be a better chance for the judge to make an accurate decision.

But that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of the legal process getting in the way of our blood thirst.

I guess the Constitution never guaranteed the system would be accurate or precise. And that’s why I don’t want Dylann Roof to be put to death. I want to know the system is accurate.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

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