Can a Juvenile Court Appoint a Psychiatric Expert ?
In re J.E.H., 972 S.W.2d 928 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 1998, pet. denied), the Beaumont Court of Appeals ruled that the constitutional requirement of a court-appointed psychiatric expert set forth in Ake v. Oklahoma is also applicable to the release or transfer hearings provided in Section 54.11 of the Family Code.
The Beaumont court held that a child under the juvenile justice system is entitled to the same basic constitutional protections as an adult, and that the hearings conducted under this section of the Juvenile Justice Code were "roughly equivalent to the punishment phase of a criminal trial." Id. at 929. Section 54.11 provides, in pertinent part, that:
(d) at a hearing under this section the court may consider written reports from probation officers, professional court employees, or professional consultants, in addition to the testimony of witnesses.
At least one day before the hearing, the court shall provide the attorney for the person to be transferred or released under supervision with access to all written matter to be considered by the court.
(e) at the hearing, the person to be transferred or released under supervision is entitled to an attorney, to examine all witnesses against him, to present evidence and oral argument, and to previous examination of all reports on and evaluations and examinations of or relating to him that may be used in the hearing.
(i) on conclusion of the hearing on a person who is referred for transfer under Section 61.079(a), Human Resources Code, the court may order:
(1) the return of the person to the Texas Youth Commission; or
(2) the transfer of the person to the custody of the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the completion of the person's sentence.
(k) In making a determination under this section, the court may consider the experiences and character of the person before and after commitment to the youth commission, the nature of the penal offense that the person was found to have committed and the manner in which the offense was committed, the abilities of the person to contribute to society, the protection of the victim of the offense or any member of the victim's family, the recommendations of the youth commission and prosecuting attorney, the best interests of the person, and any other factor relevant to the issue to be decided.
After completing its review of the statute, the Beaumont court held as follows:
Because of the hearing's impact upon a juvenile with respect to his or her punishment and the overall unfairness of the State's presentation of expert testimony when an indigent juvenile would not have the means to counter such evidence in the absence of the appointment of his or her own expert, we hold that the appointment of such an expert in connection with a release-transfer hearing is required by the Due Process Clause when an indigent juvenile makes the required showing to justify such an appointment. J.E.H., 972 S.W.2d at 930.