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.
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:
- Facing the trial
- Entering a plea
- 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.