Ake v. Oklahoma
470 U.S. 68 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985)

Ake v. Oklahoma

No. 83-5424

Argued November 7, 1984

Decided February 26, 1986

470 U.S. 68

Syllabus

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 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.

Held:

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

Page 470 U. S. 69

federal law ruling, and consequently does not present an independent state ground for its decision. Pp. 470 U. S. 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. 470 U. S. 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. 470 U. S. 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. 470 U. S. 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. 470 U. S. 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

Page 470 U. S. 70

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 on this issue, and the denial of that assistance deprived him of due process. Pp. 470 U. S. 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. 470 U. S. 87. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 470 U. S. 87.

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