CALL 205.538.3340

The Law Office of J.D. Lloyd Logo Because There’s Hope After the Trial


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?




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


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



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.