Supreme Court hears arguments on two capital punishment cases
Supreme Court hears arguments on two capital punishment cases

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments on Monday in McWilliams v. Dunn and Davila v. Davis [dockets], two cases related to capital punishment. In McWilliams [SCOTUSblog materials], the court heard arguments [transcript, PDF] on whether a defendant in Alabama whose mental health was an issue in his case should have been entitled to psychiatric assistance independent of the prosecution. The petitioner was sentenced to death after being convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in 1984. His trial attorney received a report from the inmate’s psychiatric hospital the day before sentencing, and another psychological report from the state prison on the day of his sentencing. The trial judge concluded McWilliams was “faking [and] faking” his condition, despite contradictory conclusions in the reports.

In Davila v. Davis [SCOTUSblog materials], the court heard arguments on whether a failure to raise a claim of ineffective appellate counsel in a capital case should be excused due to ineffective assistance of counsel in a state habeas proceeding. The inmate is a gang member who killed a woman and her five-year-old granddaughter while attempting to shoot a rival gang member at a birthday party. The court will decide if there is a meaningful distinction between ineffective counsel at the appellate level as opposed to trial. While the petitioner claims [materials] no meaningful difference has been recognized by the courts, the respondent claims [materials] the right to appellate counsel is not equivalent to the right to trial counsel, and should not be treated as such.