Ake v. Oklahoma

PETITIONER: Glen Burton Ake
LOCATION: Canadian County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-5424
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals

CITATION: 470 US 68 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1984
DECIDED: Feb 26, 1985
GRANTED: Mar 19, 1984

Arthur B. Spitzer - for petitioner
Michael C. Turpen - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1979, Glen Burton Ake was arrested and charged with murder for killing a couple in Oklahoma. At trial, his behavior was so abnormal that the court ordered a prolonged mental examination to determine his competency to stand trial. After six months of examination, a state psychiatrist declared Ake unfit for trial and in need of a “maximum security facility.” Six weeks after this declaration, the same psychiatrist found that, when Ake was on his anti-psychotic medication, he was stable and competent to stand trial; the state resumed proceedings.

Ake intended to assert the insanity defense, so a psychiatrist had to determine Ake’s mental state at the time of the killings. Because Ake could not afford to hire a psychiatrist, his attorney requested that the state provide him one. The court refused and rejected Ake’s argument that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required the government to provide indigent defendants with a psychiatrist to allow them to raise a meaningful insanity defense. Without a psychiatrist, Ake was unable to provide any evidence as to his mental state at the time of the offense. Absent this evidence, jurors were instructed that Ake was to be presumed sane at the time of the offense. The jury subsequently rejected Ake’s insanity defense and convicted him on all counts. At the sentencing hearing, Ake—still unable to afford a psychiatrist—could not provide expert testimony to mitigate his offense and was sentenced to death. Ake appealed to the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals, which affirmed and held that the government was not responsible for providing psychiatric help to indigent defendants charged with capital crimes.


In capital cases, does the Fourteenth Amendment require the government to provide an indigent defendant with the psychiatric assistance necessary to prepare an effective insanity defense?

Media for Ake v. Oklahoma

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 26, 1985 in Ake v. Oklahoma

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and the opinion of the Court in Glen Ake against Oklahoma will be announced by Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

We granted certiorari in this case and to decide whether the Constitution requires a state to provide an indigent defendant with the assistance of a psychiatrist.

In this case a defendant ask the Oklahoma Trial Court to appoint a psychiatrist to assist him in preparing his insanity defense.

The court refused and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed and it held that the neither the state law nor the Constitution creates a right to a state funded psychiatrist examination.

In an opinion on file today with the Clerk we reverse.

We hold that when a defendant demonstrates to the trial judge that insanity at the time of the defense is likely to be a significant factor at trial that a State must at a minimum assure that the defendant access to incompetence psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and insists in eveluating preparation and presentation of the defense.

In addition, when in the sentencing phase of a capital case the prosecutor places before the jury psychiatric evidence of the defendants future dangerousness, the defendant is entitled to the examination and assistance of a psychiatrists.

In this case the defendant maybe necessary joined and was therefore entitled to the assistance of a psychiatrist.

We reverse the decision of the Oklahoma Court.

The Chief Justice filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Marshall.