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

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

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.