CALL 205.538.3340

The Law Office of J.D. Lloyd Logo

AfterTheTrial.com... Because There’s Hope After the Trial

BLOG

After The Trial Blog

The After The Trial blog presents insights on ongoing and recent trials around the state of Alabama, including weekly criminal law round-ups.

High Court Reverses Another Alabama Death Sentence

J.D. Lloyd - Monday, June 19, 2017


McWilliams v. Dunn, Comm’r ALDOC

 

Question Presented: Did Alabama courts wrongfully conclude McWilliams was not denied meaningful assistance from a mental-health expert under Ake v. Oklahoma?

 

Facts

 

McWilliams was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for a 1994 robbery/rape/murder that took place in a convenience store in Tuscaloosa. McWilliams’ mental health was explored in depth during the course of his trial. He was examined by a “Lunacy Commission” composed of three doctors at Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility. After he was convicted and after the jury recommended he be sentenced to death by a vote of 10-2, McWilliams asked for neurological and neuropsychological exams. The court order a Dr. John Goff, a neuropsychologist with the State, to examine McWilliams. However, Dr. Goff’s findings were not based on a complete review of his mental health records. His report was given to McWilliams only 48 hours before the judicial sentencing phase. On the eve of the judicial sentencing hearing, Taylor Hardin and Holman Prison sent defense counsel updated records which had been subpoenaed months before. Trial counsel continuously asked the trial court for an independent expert and a continuance, but these requests were rejected.

 

Eventually, McWilliams case arrived in federal court when he filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for habeas corpus relief. Among other issues, McWilliams argued that the State deprived him of Due Process under Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985). McWilliams argued this denial was a violation of “clearly established federal law” and thus entitled him to habeas corpus relief. The district court denied the request.

 

Ake v. Oklahoma

In Ake, the Court ruled that the Constitution requires the State to provide an indigent defendant with “assistance necessary to prepare an effective defense based on his mental condition” if the defendant’s sanity is in question. The ruling was framed around the concept of the “meaningful access to justice.” The expert should “assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.”

 

Eleventh Circuit Ruling

The Eleventh Circuit denied relief. Initially, the Court concluded that McWilliams failed to meet his burden of showing that “clearly established federal law” entitled him to an independent expert. The Eleventh Circuit noted a split in the circuits regarding whether Ake requires the appointment of an independent expert and that the Supreme Court had never resolved that split. Because the split existed, there was, in the Court’s opinion, no clearly established federal law that could entitled McWilliams relief on this claim. Additionally, the court concluded that the State courts’ determination that Ake had been satisfied was likewise not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

 

Judge Wilson’s dissent

Judge Wilson believed that Ake was not satisfied here. First, the State failed to provide meaningful psychological assistance. McWilliams did not receive any expert assistance until after the sentencing hearing held before the jury. Second, the assistance McWilliams received from Dr. Goff was based on an incomplete review of the mental health records available for consideration. In Judge Wilson’s opinion, this paltry showing did not satisfy Ake and warrants habeas corpus relief.

 

Supreme Court Ruling

The Court ruled that in the particular circumstances of this case, McWilliams’ rights under Ake were not protected. The Court declined to answer the more specific question of whether Ake requires appointment of a mental health expert who is independent of the prosecution because Alabama failed to satisfy “Ake’s most basic requirements.”

 

The Court rejected Alabama’s argument that it complied with Ake by allowing Dr. Goff to examine McWilliams. Ake requires more: “[1] examination and assist in [2] evaluation, [3] preparation, and [4] presentation of the defense.” The Court concluded that even if it were to assume the State satisfied the “examination” requirement, it completely failed to satisfy the last three prongs.

 

While the 11th Circuit had ruled that whatever error McWilliams suffered was “harmless,” the Supreme Court noted that ruling was limited to just the question of whether the requested continuance would have made a difference in McWilliams sentencing. The Court pointed out that on remand the 11th Circuit should consider how the State’s failure to guarantee the remaining three prongs of Ake would have made a difference in McWilliams’ case.

 

Dissent (Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Gorsuch)

The dissent would have had the Court address the narrow question of whether it is clearly established federal law that Ake requires the appointment of an independent mental health expert. The dissent complains that Alabama didn’t have a chance to address the question the Court actually addressed. However, this simply isn’t true. Alabama briefed the merits of the underlying Ake claim at the merits stage.

 

The 11th Circuit on Remand

The Eleventh Circuit is likely to kick the case back down to the district court to address the full Ake question. It’s hard to see McWilliams’ death sentence standing when the Supreme Court has all but said 3 aspects of Ake weren’t satisfied here.

 

If you or someone you know has been convicted of wrongful criminal charges, there is hope after the trial. Contact us today by clicking HERE.


 


Recent Posts


Tags

tarrant alabama mccalla alabama heritage christian university scotus illegal gambling Eutaw Alabama Shonda Walker, criminal justice reform, Walker County Alabama jerry bohannon court of criminal appeals West Alabama cherokee county alabama tuscaloosa alabama decatur alabama operation bullseye alabama criminal law roundup constitutional violations making a murderer gun rights fraudulent checks drug crimes alabama Jefferson County Alabama Guy Terrell Junior bailey v us Tracie Todd morris alabama court systems, second amendment murder Lucky D Arcade robberies Stephen Breyer attempted murder car accident Kay Ivey § 13A-3-23 crime of passion Gardendale Alabama bessemer alabama Neil Gorsuch domestic abuse OJ Simpson dekalb county alabama parole nicholas hawkins OJ Simpson Made in America gadsden alabama Benn v State shelby county fairfield alabama, hurst v florida judicial override maryland court of special appeals mike gilotti christmas shooting concealed carry drug seizure narcotics investigation moving violations brady v maryland theft nathan woods towles v state self defense limestone county alabama mcwilliams v dunn fraud eleventh circuit ruling adnan syed, constitutional law, mulga alabama birchfield v north dakota underage drinking editorial foley alabama forced isolation domestic violence Briarwood Presbyterian Church debtor prison department of justice Sardis Alabama hanceville alabama criminal mischief LWOP shooting death Adamsville alabama baltimore city circuit court steve avery economic growth ake v oklahoma Tommy Arthur terell corey mcmullin negligent homicide shooting theft of property abuse ferguson missouri sarah koenig 28 U.S.C. § 2254 kenneth eugene billups habeas corpus relief stanley brent chapman greene county alabama banville v state hurst mandamus sixth amendment death penalty, calhoun county alabama edwards v arizona hall v florida fourth amendment street racing madison alabama battles v state Alonzo Ephraim court of criminal appeal releases eugene lee jones v state peyton pruitt breaking and entering mobile alabama assault sentencing law and policy blog summaries prostitution sting department of justice, sexual assault eric sterling alabama law enforcement agency Fentanyl apprendi v new jersey lamar county debit card skimming scams smith v state betton v state blountsville alabama alabama supreme court huntsville lethal injection morgan county alabama Dylann Roof road rage gun control drug trafficking, Kareem Dacar Gaymon pinson alabama benjamin todd acton beylund v north dakota Rule 32 Justice Sotomayor fort payne alabama aziz sayyed npr the mannequin challenge blount county alabama warrantless blood draws adger alabama moore v texas brian fredick lucas homicide rate asia mcclain Ingmire v State William Pryor Samuel Alito minor offenses Alabaster alabama aiding and abetting armed robbery marion county netflix russell calhoun birmingham alabama 2016 election, brendan dassey bernard v north dakota illegal gun carry cullman alabama Joshua Reese endangerment of a child utah v strieff Xavier Beasley midazolam avondale alabama dothan alabama Etowah County Alabama, lauderdale county alabama alfonso morris executions baldwin county alabama florence alabama south carolina New York Times Wesley Adam Whitworth capital punishment rainbow city alabama mountain brook alabama home repair fraud US Supreme Court Update arson strickland v washington operation crackdown keith v state Mike Hubbard lethal injection drugs implied consent drug smuggling death penalty hoax destructive devices felony assaults st clair county alabama springville alabama Donald Trump, campbell v state SCOTUS, Hillary Clinton, abduction social media embezzlement Woods v State state of alabama Marengo County Alabama john earle redfearn IV v state ex parte briseno heflin alabama burglary sheffield v state abandonment public assistance fraud utah supreme court CCA update pruitt v state trussville alabama clarence thomas texas talladega superspeedway legende v state stoves v state levins v state anniston alabama, kimberly alabama ring v arizona criminal justice serial oneonta alabama bomb threat identity theft animal cruelty brookside alabama eighth amendment, hoover alabama warrior alabama homicide state of arizona boaz alabama drug activity Pleasant Grove Alabama shoplifting Malone v State § 13A-3-23(d) immunity hearing huntsville alabama pell city alabama christian guitierez capital murder fake kidnapping, capital offenses Thomas Hardiman kidnapping dora alabama church robberies brendan dassey, steve avery, making a murderer, scotus, netflix montgomery alabama fultondale alabama Easter unlawful manufacturing mount olive alabama Glaze v State albertville alabama drug busts drug possession, pelham alabama

Archive

DISCLAIMER

These recoveries and testimonials are not an indication of future results. Every case is different, and regardless of what friends, family, or other individuals may say about what a case is worth, each case must be evaluated on its own facts and circumstances as they apply to the law. The valuation of a case depends on the facts, the injuries, the jurisdiction, the venue, the witnesses, the parties, and the testimony, among  other factors. Furthermore, no representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

Get Free Legal Advice  Contact us for a complimentary legal consultation

I am interested in scheduling a free legal consultation and receiving additional information.

Submitting Form...

The server encountered an error.

Thank you, your  entry has been  received.

© 2017 The Law Office of J.D. Lloyd, LLC. All Rights Reserved. |

 

As required by Rule 7.2(e), Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, no representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.