Psychiatric Assistance for Indigent Defendants Pleading Insanity: The Michigan Experience

The federal government and many states already provide psychiatric assistance to indigent defendants pleading insanity. Michigan’s statutory scheme for delivering this service presents an opportunity to evaluate an approach that generally favors defendant interests in areas left unresolved by Ake. This Note undertakes that evaluation. Part I summarizes the Ake decision, key problem areas, and the research methodology. Part II describes the Michigan statutory system. Part III evaluates that system using data from interviews with legal and psychiatric practitioners and considers the consequences of Michigan’s approach to the issues posed by Ake. The evaluation shows that Michigan’s system places few impediments to an indigent defendant’s access to psychiatric expert assistance, yet still avoids the program and adjudicatory ill effects that might lead a jurisdiction to impose the restrictions apparently permitted under Ake. Structural features of the Michigan system, such as the use of the state-supported Center for Forensic Psychiatry to evaluate all defendants declaring an intent to plead insanity, and the informal analytic and evaluation processes used by practitioners, together focus public resources on a small set of cases and limit the adjudicative impact of generally unrestrained access to psychiatric assistance.