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The State Must Provide Access To Psychologists For Sanity Evaluations: Ake v. Oklahoma (1985)

Glen Burton Ake, arrested in November of 1979 for the murders of Richard and Marilyn Douglas.

Glen Burton Ake, arrested in November of 1979 for the murders of Richard and Marilyn Douglas.

On October 15, 1979, Glen Burton Ake was arrested for the murders of Richard and Marilyn Douglas. He allegedly bound Mr. and Mrs. Douglas with rope, along with their children, Brooks and Leslie. With the family lying on the floor immobile, he shot all four of them. The parents died, but the children survived the attack.

During the course of his legal proceedings, Ake's competency to stand trial was raised as an issue, and it was determined that he was delusional and struggling with Paranoid Schizophrenia. After several months in a state mental health hospital, he faced trial.

His defense attorneys petitioned the Court to pay for access to a psychiatrist in order to prepare for Ake's defense, which was going to be Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity. Ake was indigent and represented by the Public Defender's Office, thus he could not afford to hire a psychiatrist privately. The trial court denied the request, stating Ake had no right to access to a psychiatrist. Ake was later convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to death.

Ake’s attorneys appealed his conviction, arguing that his due process rights had been violated. A court of appeals upheld his conviction, but the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction and sent his case back to be re-tried.

The Supreme Court held "(1) that when a defendant in a criminal prosecution makes 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 the state provide the defendant access to a psychiatrist if the defendant cannot otherwise afford one; (2) that a defendant is similarly entitled to the assistance of a psychiatrist at a capital sentencing proceeding at which the state presents psychiatric evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness; and (3) that under the facts presented, the defendant's sanity was a significant factor at both the guilt and sentencing phases and that the denial of psychiatric assistance constituted a deprivation of due process." 

Not only did the Court set the precedent that indigent defendants had the right to access to a psychiatrist in sanity cases, but they also had the right to access to a psychiatrist during the sentencing phase in death penalty cases where "future dangerousness" was going to be called into question. In recent years, this ruling has been expanded to mean that indigent defendants in similar circumstances have the right to have access to adequately trained psychiatrists or psychologists.

Ake faced a new trial and was once again convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. In his new trial, he was sentenced to life in prison instead of death, however.

Glen Ake passed away on April 23, 2011 in a prison hospital. It was reported that he had a heart attack. He was 55 years old.