Reuters has reported that on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a convicted murderer in Alabama who argued that he was entitled to an expert independent from prosecutors to gauge his mental health and possibly help him avoid execution. The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of inmate James McWilliams, who was convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a convenience store clerk in Tuscaloosa. The court sent the case back to lower courts to determine if the ruling will affect McWilliams’ conviction and sentence.
The court did not rule on the main question before them: whether indigent criminal defendants who may have a mental illness have the right to independent expert witnesses to testify in their defense, or whether court-appointed experts who offer findings to the prosecution and the defense are adequate.
Instead, the court found that Alabama had not met the basic standards set by a 1985 case called Ake v. Oklahoma, which said that indigent defendants are entitled to expert assistance. T
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