McWilliams v. Dunn: Ake & Access to Mental Health Expert for Alabama Death Row Inmate?

Level: Advanced
Runtime: 96 minutes
Recorded Date: September 28, 2017
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  • Ake v. Oklahoma Refresher
  • Trial and Sentencing
  • McWilliams’s Appeals
  • Supreme Court Briefing: McWilliams' Argument & Amici Arguments
  • Oral Argument at the Supreme Court
  • The Court’s Decision
  • Moving Forward
Runtime: 1 hour and 36 minutes
Recorded: September 28, 2017


In McWilliams, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' determination that McWilliams got all the assistance to which Ake entitled him—access to a competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense—was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

In this program, our panel will discuss Ake v. Oklahoma, the facts, issues and ruling in McWilliams and the impact on cases involving indigent defendants whose sanity at the time of the offense is a significant fact at trial.

This program was recorded on September 28th, 2017.

Provided By

American Bar Association


Sara Totonchi

Executive Director
Southern Center for Human Rights

Sara Totonchi is the Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), a nonprofit law firm that provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails, litigates to improve legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, and advocates for criminal justice system reforms on behalf of those affected by the system in the Southern United States.

Sara joined SCHR in 2001 as the Public Policy Director and became the organization’s Executive Director in 2010. For more than a decade, she represented SCHR on a full range of criminal justice and public safety issues at the Georgia General Assembly. Sara led coalition efforts and legislative advocacy to establish Georgia’s statewide public defender system and enact criminal justice reforms, specializing in building partnerships with unlikely allies such as law enforcement, survivors of crime, and conservative elected officials. As Executive Director, Sara leads SCHR in carrying out its mission to dramatically transform the criminal justice system.

Sara has been recognized twice as a “Top 40 Under 40”, in 2010 by Georgia Trend Magazine and in 2012 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. In 2011, Atlanta Magazine named Sara as one of "Five of the Future" and one of ten “New Guard” leaders of Atlanta. Georgia Trend has annually named Sara a “Notable Person” from 2012 through 2016. Sara is the immediate past chairperson and current Board Member of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an Advisor for the Georgia Chapter of the American Constitution Society, an Advisor for Good Thinking Atlanta, alumna of Leadership Atlanta (Class of 2012), a member of the Georgia State Bar’s Indigent Defense Committee, and serves on the Steering Committee of the International Arab Women's Solidarity Association.

Patrick M. Mulvaney

Managing Attorney
Southern Center for Human Rights

Patrick Mulvaney is SCHR’s managing attorney for capital litigation. He focuses primarily on capital appellate and post-conviction cases in Georgia and Alabama.

Patrick and other SCHR attorneys represented Timothy Foster in Foster v. Chatman, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held in May 2016 that Georgia prosecutors discriminated on the basis of race when they struck all four black prospective jurors from the venire at Foster’s 1987 trial. The ruling invalidated Foster’s conviction and death sentence. Patrick and other attorneys also represented LaSamuel Gamble, who was resentenced to life without parole in 2012 after serving 16 years on death row in Alabama.

Beyond his capital work, Patrick has been instrumental in establishing SCHR’s practice of challenging extreme sentences for nonviolent drug offenses in Georgia. In 2015, he and SCHR attorney Atteeyah Hollie represented Wilmart Martin, who was resentenced to time served and released after serving 24 years of a life without parole sentence for possession of cocaine. Patrick, Atteeyah, and other SCHR attorneys have since won the release of five other clients in similar circumstances.

Since joining SCHR in 2008, Patrick has published numerous articles and essays on criminal justice and the death penalty, including in the Stanford Law Review and the Yale Law Journal Forum. He also frequently presents at conferences and trainings.

Patrick earned his B.A. from Saint Joseph’s University in 2002, his M.A. from New York University in 2004, and his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2008. Upon graduating from Penn Law, he received the Summer Jackson-Healy Award for Public Service. He then joined SCHR as a Reprieve Fellow, became a staff attorney a year later, and assumed his current role as managing attorney for capital litigation in 2013. He was named an attorney “On the Rise” by the Daily Report, Atlanta’s legal newspaper, in 2016. He is a member of the Georgia and Alabama bars.

Michael B. DeSanctis

Munger Tolles & Olson LLP

Michael B. DeSanctis is a litigation partner with Munger, Tolles & Olson based in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. Mr. DeSanctis’ practice includes defending government investigations, leading jury and bench trials and arguing major appellate matters, including before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. DeSanctis routinely represents leading companies in the field of media and entertainment, communications and aerospace, and national defense. He advises on a broad range of business disputes and arbitrations, both domestic and international, as well as enforcement and investigation matters.

One of the country’s leading experts in election law and redistricting, Mr. DeSanctis has represented elected officials, Congressional and state legislative delegations, campaigns, candidates and other political organizations in litigation, counseling and the development of strategic planning involving redistricting, election law and voting rights issues, and campaign finance.

Mr. DeSanctis joined Munger Tolles in 2016 to open the firm’s Washington, D.C. office.

Mr. DeSanctis has been recognized in the Legal 500 U.S. for litigation and telecommunications.

Mark A. Loudon-Brown


Mark Loudon-Brown earned his J.D. from NYU in 2007 and his L.L.M. in trial advocacy from Georgetown Law in 2009, where he was a Prettyman Fellow, representing indigent clients charged with crimes in D.C. Superior Court and supervising third-year law students doing the same. He then joined the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders, where he served as a supervising attorney and as the forensic practice supervisor, focusing on cases involving DNA evidence. In 2015, Mark became a staff attorney in the Capital Litigation Unit of the Southern Center for Human Rights, where he represents people facing the death penalty in Georgia and Alabama at various stages, including trial, state appellate and post-conviction, and federal habeas. This fall he will co-teach a seminar on forensic evidence at Georgia State University College of Law.

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