Ake v. Oklahoma

470 U.S. 68
Brief Filed: 6/84
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1985

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 601KB)


Whether an indigent defendant has the constitutional right to the appointment of a mental health professional at the State's expense to help the defendant prepare an insanity defense and rebut evidence of future dangerousness

Index Topics

Criminal Defendant's Right to Assistance of Mental Health Professionals (Psychiatric Evaluations); Death Penalty; Insanity Defense


An indigent defendant was charged with first-degree murder and firing a gun with intent to kill. The trial court judge ordered a competency evaluation due to his odd behavior at the arraignment four months after commission of the crime. A psychiatrist initially determined he was incompetent to stand trial, but reversed his opinion six weeks later, after the defendant had been medicated with large doses of an anti-psychotic drug to control symptoms of his chronic illness. Defendant's pretrial request for a psychiatric evaluation at state expense was denied in spite of the fact that insanity was the sole defense to be asserted. Defendant was convicted and, at the guilt phase of the trial, psychiatric evidence as to his dangerousness was admitted. No testimony as to his sanity at the time of the offense was presented. At sentencing, the State requested and received the death penalty, relying on evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness. The defendant was unable to rebut this expert testimony or to present mitigating evidence. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, rejecting the petitioner's constitutional claim that, as an indigent defendant, he should have been provided the services of a court-appointed psychiatrist. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

APA's Position

APA submitted an amicus brief in support of the petitioner's constitutional claim that he was entitled to a state-financed evaluation to determine his mental state at the time of the offense in order to support his insanity plea.


The U.S. Supreme Court announced the federal constitutional right of an indigent criminal defendant to receive, at state expense, the assistance of a psychiatric expert. Where an indigent has made a preliminary showing that his sanity at the time of the offense is likely to be a significant factor at trial, a state may not refuse to appoint an expert to conduct an appropriate examination and assist in the evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense. In so holding, the Court relied on the due process analysis presented by the APA's brief, and applied due process principles to the case.