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

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

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.