470 U.S. 68 (1986), 83-5424, Ake v. Oklahoma

Docket Nº:No. 83-5424
Citation:470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53, 53 U.S.L.W. 4179
Party Name:Ake v. Oklahoma
Case Date:February 26, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

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470 U.S. 68 (1986)

105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53, 53 U.S.L.W. 4179




No. 83-5424

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 26, 1985

Argued November 7, 1984




Petitioner, an indigent, was charged with first-degree murder and shooting with intent to kill. At his arraignment in an Oklahoma trial court, his behavior was so bizarre that the trial judge, sua sponte, ordered him to be examined by a psychiatrist. Shortly thereafter, the examining psychiatrist found petitioner to be incompetent to stand trial, and suggested that he be committed. But six weeks later, after being committed to the state mental hospital, petitioner was found to be competent on the condition that he continue to be sedated within an antipsychotic drug. The State then resumed proceedings, and, at a pretrial conference, petitioner's attorney informed the court that he would raise an insanity defense, and requested a psychiatric evaluation at state expense to determine petitioner's mental state at the time of the offense, claiming that he was entitled to such an evaluation by the Federal Constitution. On the basis of United States ex rel. Smith v. Baldi, 344 U.S. 561, the trial court denied petitioner's motion for such an evaluation. At the guilt phase of the ensuing trial, the examining psychiatrists testified that petitioner was dangerous to society, but there was no testimony as to his sanity at the time of the offense. The jury rejected the insanity defense, and petitioner was convicted on all counts. At the sentencing proceeding, the State asked for the death penalty on the murder counts, relying on the examining [105 S.Ct. 1089] psychiatrists' testimony to establish the likelihood of petitioner's future dangerous behavior. Petitioner had no expert witness to rebut this testimony or to give evidence in mitigation of his punishment, and he was sentenced to death. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences. After rejecting, on the merits, petitioner's federal constitutional claim that, as an indigent defendant, he should have been provided the services of a court-appointed psychiatrist, the court ruled that petitioner had waived such claim by not repeating his request for a psychiatrist in his motion for a new trial.


1. This Court has jurisdiction to review this case. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals' holding that the federal constitutional claim to a court-appointed psychiatrist was waived depended on the court's

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federal law ruling, and consequently does not present an independent state ground for its decision. Pp. 74-75.

2. When a defendant has made a preliminary showing that his sanity at the time of the offense is likely to be a significant factor at trial, the Constitution requires that a State provide access to a psychiatrist's assistance on this issue if the defendant cannot otherwise afford one. Pp. 76-85.

(a) In determining whether, and under what conditions, a psychiatrist's participation is important enough to preparation of a defense to require the State to provide an indigent defendant with access to a psychiatrist, there are three relevant factors: (i) the private interest that will be affected by the State's actions; (ii) the State's interest that will be affected if the safeguard is to be provided; and (iii) the probable value of the additional or substitute safeguards that are sought and the risk of an erroneous deprivation of the affected interest if those safeguards are not provided. The private interest in the accuracy of a criminal proceeding is almost uniquely compelling. The State's interest in denying petitioner a psychiatrist's assistance is not substantial in light of the compelling interest of both the State and petitioner in accurate disposition. And without a psychiatrist's assistance to conduct a professional examination on issues relevant to the insanity defense, to help determine whether that defense is viable, to present testimony, and to assist in preparing the cross-examination of the State's psychiatric witnesses, the risk of an inaccurate resolution of sanity issues is extremely high. This is so particularly when the defendant is able to make an ex parte threshold showing that his sanity is likely to be a significant factor in his defense. Pp. 78-83.

(b) When the State at a capital sentencing proceeding presents psychiatric evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness, the defendant, without a psychiatrist's assistance, cannot offer an expert's opposing view, and thereby loses a significant opportunity to raise in the jurors' minds questions about the State's proof of an aggravating factor. In such a circumstance, where the consequence of error is so great, the relevance of responsive psychiatric testimony so evident, and the State's burden so slim, due process requires access to a psychiatric examination on relevant issues, to a psychiatrist's testimony, and to assistance in preparation at the sentencing phase. Pp. 83-84.

(c) United State ex rel. Smith v. Baldi, supra, is not authority for absolving the trial court of its obligation to provide petitioner access to a psychiatrist. Pp. 84-85.

3. On the record, petitioner was entitled to access to a psychiatrist's assistance at his trial, it being clear that his mental state at the time of

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the offense was a substantial factor in his defense, and that the trial court was on notice of that fact when the request for a court-appointed psychiatrist was made. In addition, petitioner's future dangerousness was a significant factor at the sentencing phase, so as to entitle him to a psychiatrist's assistance [105 S.Ct. 1090] on this issue, and the denial of that assistance deprived him of due process. Pp. 86-87.

663 P.2d 1, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 87. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 87.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether the Constitution requires that an indigent defendant have access to the psychiatric examination and assistance necessary to prepare an effective defense based on his mental condition, when his sanity at the time of the offense is seriously in question.


Late in 1979, Glen Burton Ake was arrested and charged with murdering a couple and wounding their two children. He was arraigned in the District Court for Canadian County,

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Okla., in February, 1980. His behavior at arraignment, and in other prearraignment incidents at the jail, was so bizarre that the trial judge, sua sponte, ordered him to be examined by a psychiatrist

for the purpose of advising with the Court as to his impressions of whether the Defendant may need an extended period of mental observation.

App. 2. The examining psychiatrist reported:

At times, [Ake] appears to be frankly delusional. . . . He claims to be the "sword of vengeance" of the Lord, and that he will sit at the left hand of God in heaven.

Id. at 8. He diagnosed Ake as a probable paranoid schizophrenic, and recommended a prolonged psychiatric evaluation to determine whether Ake was competent to stand trial.

In March, Ake was committed to a state hospital to be examined with respect to his "present sanity," i.e., his competency to stand trial. On April 10, less than six months after the incidents for which Ake was indicted, the chief forensic psychiatrist at the state hospital informed the court that Ake was not competent to stand trial. The court then held a competency hearing, at which a psychiatrist testified:

[Ake] is a psychotic . . . his psychiatric diagnosis was that of paranoid schizophrenia -- chronic, with exacerbation, that is with current upset, and that in addition . . . he is dangerous. . . . [B]ecause of the severity of his mental illness and because of the intensities of his rage, his poor control, his delusions, he requires a maximum security facility within -- I believe -- the State Psychiatric Hospital system.

Id. at 11-12. The court found Ake to be a "mentally ill person in need of care and treatment" and incompetent to stand trial, and ordered him committed to the state mental hospital.

Six weeks later, the chief forensic psychiatrist informed the court that Ake had become competent to stand trial. At the time, Ake was receiving 200 milligrams of Thorazine, an antipsychotic drug, three times daily, and the psychiatrist indicated that, if Ake continued to receive that dosage, his

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condition would remain stable. The State then resumed proceedings against Ake.

At a pretrial conference in June, Ake's attorney informed the court that his client would raise an insanity defense. To enable him to prepare and present such a defense adequately, the attorney stated, a psychiatrist would have to examine Ake with respect to his mental condition at the time of the offense. During Ake's 3-month stay at the state hospital, no inquiry had been made into his sanity at the time of the offense, and, as an indigent, Ake could not afford to pay for a psychiatrist. Counsel asked the court either to arrange to have a psychiatrist perform the examination or to provide funds to allow the defense to arrange one. The trial judge rejected counsel's argument that the Federal Constitution requires that an indigent defendant receive the assistance of a psychiatrist when that assistance is necessary to the defense, and he denied the motion for a psychiatric evaluation at state expense on the basis of this Court's decision in United States ex rel. Smith v. Baldi, 344 U.S. 561 (1953).

Ake was tried for two counts of murder in the first degree, a crime punishable by death in Oklahoma, and for two counts of...

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