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US Supreme Court death penalty decision could be victory for due process


Outside 10 of the Supreme Court in Washington DC during the courts ruling in favor of legalizing gay marriage on June 26 2015. Photo credit: Addie Mena CNA 6 26 15

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Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2017 CNA/EWTN News.- The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a defendant has a right to a mental health evaluation independent of the prosecution, which could have wide-ranging implications for the justice system.

“This is a very important decision,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in McWilliams v. Dunn.

“A mental health expert helps the defense investigate mental health defenses in the case,” he explained June 19. “Although most states already routinely provide independent mental health experts for the defense, this decision makes clear that this type of expert has always been required by due process,” he said.

The defendant in the case, James Edmond McWilliams, was convicted in 1985 in Alabama of robbing, raping, and murdering a store clerk. He was sentenced to death the following year.

A three-member “lunacy commission” was organized by the state to evaluate his condition, and they concluded that McWilliams had not been significantly impaired by mental illness at the time of his crime. McWilliams was convicted of capital murder.

Before his sentencing hearing, his defense had requested a mental health expert to conduct neurological and neuropsychological tests, as he had previously suffered serious head trauma.

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