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

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

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.