What is Competency to Stand Trial in Arizona?


Competency to stand trial in Arizona relates to Rule 11 which gives a criminal defendant the right to a mental examination and hearing when reasonable grounds for an examination are present.

Under Arizona law, reasonable grounds exist when a court finds sufficient evidence to indicate that the defendant is unable to understand the nature of the proceeding being brought against him and to assist in his defense.

Competency to stand trial in Arizona

Competency to stand trial in Arizona involves a hearing

Any party to the case may file a motion to decide the defendant’s competency to stand trial in Arizona. Competency can relate to three aspects of the proceeding:

  1. Facing the trial
  2. Entering a plea
  3. Assisting an attorney in your defense.

Not all criminal defense attorneys are well versed in issues of competency to stand trial. In cases where the defendant’s mental health is a pertinent issue, you should hire a lawyer who is experienced in these matters.

The legal basis of competency to stand trial in Arizona and elsewhere was set out by the US Supreme Court as long ago as 1960 in Dusky v. United States.  The justices ruled in order for a defendant to be found competent the test must be whether the accused has “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.”

The defendant must be able to do two things – understand the charges he is facing and be able to assist his lawyer.

The parties must provide the examining mental health experts with all of the available medical and criminal history records no more than three days after the appointment of the experts.

The court may order the defendant undergoes a preliminary examination to assist the court in deciding if reasonable grounds exist to order a more detailed examination.

The court will then weight up whether reasonable grounds exist to examine the defendant for competency. An expert may be appointed by the court to help at the preliminary examination. The reasonable grounds requirement is met if the court finds there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of incompetency.

If the hearing decides the defendant is fit to stand trial the case will proceed. If the court decides there are reasonable grounds to examine the defendant’s competency to stand trial, the case will be moved to a hearing in the superior court.

During Rule 11 hearings, the judges must weigh the state’s duty to protect its citizens against the legal responsibility to protect defendants who can’t help themselves and are unaware of the nature of the proceedings against them.

The court will hold a hearing where both parties present evidence to establish whether the defendant is competent, incompetent to stand trial, or incompetent to refuse treatment. If the defendant is found competent, his or her trial will proceed.

When incompetency to stand trial is found, the court is obliged to order treatment intended to restore competency in the absence of convincing evidence that the defendant’s competency will not be restored within 15 months. When the defendant is charged with a felony, the 15 month period may be extended for another six months when the court finds that progress towards competency is being made.

A number of options are available to the court if it decides competency cannot be restored. The defendant may be remanded for civil commitment proceedings, the court may appoint a guardian, release the defendant and drop the charges without prejudice. This means the charges can be brought up again at some time in the future.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we have a long history of representing defendants in competency to stand trial cases in Arizona. Find out more on our website or call (602) 340-1999.


Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

What Are the Alternative Paths for Mentally ill Prisoners in Arizona?


At the Garcia Law Firm, we believe everyone deserves a fair and just trial in the Arizona court system. All the circumstances related to a defendant’s behavior must be considered in a case including mental illness. We are believers in alternative paths to incarceration for mentally ill defendants.

Mentally ill people often end up locked up even though jails are the worst places for them. Recently, AZCentral highlighted alternatives to jail.

More than two years ago, Justina Kaleugher, a resident of Glendale, faced jail time after beating up a man and a woman when she was drunk. She committed an assault before but the victims did not press charges. They did on this occasion.

Kaleugher is a type 1 diabetic. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is an alcoholic. She faced up to six months in jail for the assault.

alternative paths for mentally ill prisoners

alternative paths for mentally ill prisoners often help

However, the judge offered her another option because she suffers from a serious mental illness due to childhood trauma. AZCentral reported Glendale Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth Finn told Kaleugher she could avoid jail if she agreed to attend the city’s mental-health court.

Although this is an alternative to incarceration, it’s a major undertaking. Kalaugher had to agree to take part in an intensive treatment program and meet with the judge every two weeks. By complying, she was able to avoid jail and get the misdemeanor charge dropped.

We are pleased to see mental-health courts like the one in Glendale becoming more widespread in Arizona. They are a way to simplify the intimidating judicial process for people with mental disorders and to end the cycle of repeat jail terms.

It took Kaleugher a year-and-a-half to ‘graduate’ from the mental health court and she experienced some setbacks on the way. She was initially suspicious about the program. After passing through the program, she started working as a recovering coach in Peoria, helping others work through their mental illness and alcohol addiction issues.

People diagnosed with serious mental illnesses or other developmental disabilities can attend mental health courts if one is available in their jurisdiction as long as the offense they have been charged with is a misdemeanor crime.

Shelley Curran, a court services administrator for Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care, told AZCentral, people with mental illnesses are not more likely to be arrested than the general population. However, when they are arrested, they usually remain in the criminal-justice system longer because they are unable to navigate the complex system.

While prison is a blunt instrument, mental-health courts alleviate the issues faced by people with mental illnesses by addressing their individualized needs and creating treatment programs tailored to the individual. The courts are voluntary. People suffering from mental illnesses can instead opt to go through the criminal justice system.

Chandler, Glendale, Phoenix and Tempe are among jurisdictions offering mental-health courts. The available options depend on where a crime is committed.

The city of Tucson also advocates alternatives to jail for people suffering from mental illnesses. As well as mental health courts, the city created sentencing alternatives that reduce jail sentences after a conviction or plea to certain offenses.

A third or subsequent conviction under Tucson City Code Section 11-28, Committing or Offering to Commit an act of Prostitution, carries a minimum 180-day jail sentence. However, the city states this penalty is ineffective in deterring subsequent offenses by defendants who are mentally ill or substance abusers.

Certain defendants are allowed to plead to a single count of prostitution, which requires only a 15-day jail sentence

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged , |

How ‘Tough-on-Crime’ Initiatives in Arizona Ignore Mental Health


In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and its former leader, Joe Arpaio, who modeled himself as “America’s toughest sheriff.”

The lawsuit claimed tough on crime initiatives followed by the likes of by Arpaio ignored the mental health issues of inmates and even exacerbated them.

The suit referred to the comments of a psychiatrist who observed “dangerously inadequate” conditions across Maricopa County jails. He described mentally ill detainees who were held in solitary confinement.

controversy over tough-on-crime

Tough-on-crime initiatives disregard mental health

People with mental illnesses are more likely to end up incarcerated than the rest of the population. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states over two million people are arrested and booked into jails each year. A survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that people suffering from mental illness are nine times more likely to be locked up in cells than hospitalized, and 18 times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than in a hospital facility.

The opinion section of the Arizona Capitol Times stated tough-on-crime initiatives are doing little to tackle the issues faced by inmates with mental illnesses. It noted many of them are being held before a conviction.

Uncompromising policies like locking up people with mental illnesses alone and depriving them of access to services, only serve to increase their sense of isolation and hopelessness.

In Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit last year against the Alabama Department of Corrections. The brief claimed the practice of locking up mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement makes their conditions worse. The lawsuit claimed solitary confinement can create mental illness issues in previously healthy prisoners.

It noted the link between tough-on-crime policies and prison suicides.

The Arizona Capitol Times article stated mental illness and substance abuse affects about 60 percent of the jail population in Pima County. As many as 80 percent of jail detainees have not been convicted of a crime and are still awaiting trial.

However, the leadership of Pima County is looking at alternatives to tough-on-crime measures and long periods of incarceration. The county has embarked on a series of collaborations to implement local criminal justice reform, such as setting up of a Crisis Response Center and Behavioral Health Pavilion. These services are intended to provide integrated care to those who suffer behavioral health crises and to help them avoid unnecessary incarceration.

If you or a family member is suffering from a mental illness, a prison cell is one of the worst places you can be. At the Garcia Law Firm, we provide vigorous defense for the mentally ill. Please call us at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Arizona Laws, Law Enforcement, Mental Health | Tagged , |

The Importance of Rule 11 in Arizona


During a trial in Arizona, a defense attorney may ask for a Rule 11 evaluation of his or her client. Under Rule 11, the defendant has the right to a full mental examination and hearing when reasonable grounds exist for it.

A Rule 11 hearing may be held when a defendant is suspected of being mentally incompetent. This hearing is granted when there is substantial evidence of mental incompetence. Doctors will determine the mental competency of the defendant at the hearing.

A hearing under Rule 11 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure may be held when reasonable grounds exist to suggest the defendant is not able to understand the nature of a criminal proceeding against him and to assist in his or her defense.

A Rule 11 hearing in Arizona

The process during a Rule 11 hearing

The rule is meant to establish whether the defendant has sufficient mental ability to understand what is going on. Criminal trials are adversarial by their nature. It’s a format the criminal justice system has followed for centuries. However, this format is a difficult one for people who can’t comprehend the proceedings.

What Happens in a Rule 11 Hearing?

Typically, the process involves two doctors who examine the accused to assess his or her level of comprehension. Typical questions may be:

  1. What is your level of understanding of the proceedings?
  2. What is the role of a jury in a criminal case?
  3. Are you aware of the nature of a plea bargain?
  4. Are you fully aware of the charges against you?

The definition of incompetency under Arizona law is identical with that adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court for the federal courts.

A defendant cannot be tried by a court, convicted of a crime, sentenced or punished for a public offense as a result of a mental defect, illness, or disability, when the defendant is unable to understand the proceedings against him or her or to provide assistance in his or her own defense. A mental illness, defect or disability is defined as a neurological or psychiatric disorder demonstrated by evidence of behavior or emotions caused by an injury or disease and developmental disabilities as set out in A.R.S. § 36-551.

The presence of a mental defect, illness, or disability alone is insufficient grounds for finding a defendant incompetent to stand trial. The deliberations hinge on the narrow question of whether the defendant is aware of the proceedings and is able to advise his attorney.

If both doctors agree a defendant is competent, he or she typically will return to the court and have to face the charges. If the doctors are split, the defendant will usually have to see a third doctor.

When two doctors believe the defendant is not competent to stand trial under Rule 11, the state must determine whether or not it wants to dismiss the charges. A defendant may be sent to a mental health hospital and detained if he is deemed a threat to himself or the community. A defendant not deemed to be a threat may be released.

In some cases, the doctors may decide the defendant is not competent at the time of the trial but could become competent at a later date through treatment or medication.

Under the restoration process, the doctors typically follow a six-month plan. At the end of that time, if they have determined that you are restored, you will go back to the court to answer the charges.

Bernardo Garcia is a veteran Arizona criminal law attorney who offers free consultations in Maricopa County.  If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime, contact us today for a free consultation.

Posted in Arizona Laws, Rule 11 | Tagged , |

I Have Been Charged with a Felony, Can a Mental Illness Attorney Help?


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Whether you have been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, the attorneys at Garcia Law will defend the mentally ill no matter the circumstances. Our staff has experience with all types of cases for the mentally ill such as DUIs, drug offenses, homicides, robberies and more. So, what can you do if you are mentally ill and have been charged with a felony?

The first step after being charged with a felony is to meet with a trusted and skilled attorney. A felony is a serious crime, whether it’s violent or non-violent. If you have been charged with a felony, you could face one to 25 years in prison. In fact, you most likely will serve at least one year of imprisonment. It depends on the crime, severity of the conviction and previous offenses. For example, a class 1 felony conviction can result in a 25 year sentence.

However, if you have a mental illness and are charged with a felony, don’t let that stop you from a fair court process. Legally accused of a serious crime can come with serious consequences. If you have a mental illness, you could bring your case to the mental health courts. Keep in mind that some mental health courts are restricted to misdemeanors. This is why legal representation from Garcia Law is beneficial. We will pay close attention to your case, finding ways to receive treatment instead of punishment, or a combination of both.

Why Garcia Law?

The attorneys at Garcia Law understand the legal system and the mentally ill. Your rights must be protected in the court system, especially if you have a mental illness.  Garcia Law has experience with those suffering from mental disorders such as bi-polar, schizophrenia, mood disorders, psychotic disorders and personality disorders. We understand that you are not in full control of your mental health and will seek justice no matter what.


Posted in Arizona Laws, Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged , , , , , , |

Why a Lawyer Must Investigate the Defendant’s Childhood History


Mental health problems can often be traced back to an early age. Childhood trauma can affect adults later in life. For this reason, it’s important for a lawyer to investigate his client’s childhood history in criminal proceedings.

A defendant’s childhood history may have a long-lasting impact and be an underlying factor leading to a crime. Explaining the root causes of mental illness to a jury can help jurors understand the defendant’s motives and issues.

The importance of a defendant’s childhood history

A defendant’s childhood history may be important

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, children can demonstrate clear characteristics of anxiety disorders, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other conditions like autism, at a very early age.

However, children respond to emotional experiences and traumatic events in a very different way to adults. Trauma such as child abuse can trigger issues like PTSD.

Researchers associated with the Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The study found that ACEs are associated with a range of negative outcomes in later life, including mental and physical disorders and aggressive behavior.

The research examined offenders from four different groups who were referred for treatment at an outpatient clinic in San Diego, California after criminal convictions.  The groups were nonsexual child abusers, domestic violence offenders, sexual offenders, and stalkers.

The results of the research found the offender group reported nearly four times as many adverse events in childhood compared to a sample of the average adult male population. Eight of 10 childhood events occurred at significantly higher levels among the criminal population. Convicted sexual offenders and child abusers were more likely to have experienced sexual abuse in childhood than other offender types.

Evidence related to a defendant’s character is admissible during sentencing, the U.S. Supreme Court established in the case of Lockett v. Ohio.

Mitigating evidence in a criminal case includes education, life history, and family background. In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Wiggins v. Smith, Wiggins argued the failure of his attorney to investigate and present evidence of his dysfunctional background was detrimental to his case. He presented expert testimony from a forensic social worker relating to the severe physical and sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother and under the care of a series of foster parents. This evidence was not introduced by his lawyers before he was convicted of capital murder by a Maryland judge.

The justices held the performance of Wiggins’ attorneys during sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we are dedicated to highlighting every factor that is pertinent to a defendant’s mental state during a criminal proceeding. Please call us if you are facing criminal charges at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |