High Court Affirms Lower Court Ruling On Disclosure Of Murder Defendant's Competency Evaluation

Sep 6, 2013

The case before the high court involved Seattle doctor Louis Chen. Chen is accused of murdering his partner and their young son two years ago in their apartment on First Hill.

Attorneys for Chen had argued that their client’s mental competency review be kept secret under a state statute that limits who can see the information.

The high court disagreed.

Michelle Hubbard, a media law attorney at Allied Law Group, says in its ruling the court wrote that the constitutional presumption of openness trumps state law. “What this does is make clear that the same rules apply to court proceedings as to court records. Courts are open. Court records are open," Hubbard said. 

The high court, Hubbard said, was clear about why it’s important that the public have access to this type of information. Defendants who are deemed not competent could be committed for an indeterminate amount of time Hubbard said.

A King County Superior Court judge has ruled Chen competent to stand trial. He’s been charged with two counts of aggravated first degree murder. Prosecutors said they will not seek the death penalty.

The trial is expected to start this spring. If he’s found guilty, Chen faces life in prison without parole.