Mental Illness and Prohibited Gun Purchase in Arizona


Some people who suffer from mental illness face restrictions on the buying of firearms. Although Arizona has liberal firearms laws, it’s important to be aware of prohibited gun purchase in Arizona.

There are also federal laws that relate to the purchase and possession of firearms for people who suffered mental illness.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 922 it is unlawful for anyone to sell or supply any firearm or ammunition to any person if they have reasonable cause to believe the recipient “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.”

Gen purchase and mental illness

Can mentally ill people buy guns?

Arizona’s law relating to mental illness and prohibited gun purchase is less detailed than those of many other states.

Arizona bans possession of a firearm by any person found to constitute a danger to himself or herself or others pursuant to a court order under and whose right to possess a firearm has not been restored pursuant.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit set up after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in Tucson in 2011, highlights prohibited gun purchasers in Arizona.

A person with a mental illness is barred from possessing a firearm if deemed to constitute a risk to himself or herself or other people or to be disabled under a court order if their right to possess a firearm has not been restored;

Someone who is found incompetent, and not subsequently found competent is also barred from firearm possession as well as a person who is found guilty except insane.

Other prohibited purchasers include those convicted of a felony or adjudicated delinquent for a felony whose civil right to carry or possess a firearm has not been restored.

It’s also a crime to possess a gun if you are serving a term of imprisonment in any correctional or detention facility.

Undocumented immigrants are banned from firearm possession under Arizona law.

Arizona also prohibits any person who was adjudicated delinquent for an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult from owning, carrying, or possessing a gun within 10 years of his or her release date.

People who suffer from mental illnesses may not always be aware of the specific prohibitions for owning, carrying, or possession of a firearm. Please contact our Arizona criminal defense lawyer today for help.


Posted in Violent Crime | Tagged |

Peer Support Programs Help Defendants with Mental Illness in Phoenix


It’s tough to be charged with a crime if you are mentally ill in Phoenix. It’s even harder if you have no family or other support networks to turn to.

However, peer support programs often play an invaluable role in helping mentally ill people who fall foul of the law.

The role of the Criminal Justice Engagement Team was highlighted by 91.5 KJZZ. The team works with people following diagnosis with a serious mental illness in Phoenix.

the importance of peer support programs in Arizona

Peer support programs help Arizona’s mentally ill

The report noted how Gary Peltier of the team met a mentally ill man called Marco when he was released from the 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix in 2016.

Marco walked out of the jail clutching a plastic bag filled with the belongings he had with during his arrest.

The report noted Peltier worked as an engagement specialist with Southwest Behavioral Health Services’ Criminal Justice Engagement Team. Members of the team go to county jails to pick up people when they are released three times a day. Most arrests were for minor offenses.

Workers with the Southwest Behavioral Health team help mentally ill people after their release from jail. They assist them to obtain driver’s licenses, to find a roof over their heads, to get a bus pass, or to understand the Arizona court system. Workers like Peltier said they also provide plenty of encouragement and hope.

Peltier told KJZZ these peer support programs are effective. He has firsthand experience of the issues. He was jailed and ended up at Central Arizona Shelter Services.

The Criminal Justice Engagement Team helps people who diagnosed with a serious mental illness following their arrests for non-violent crimes.

The first step is to make sure people like Marco have a place to sleep for the night. The team gives them a case manager.

Rachel Zamora, a senior team leader for the Criminal Justice Engagement Team, described the operation as like being a “triage team.”

Time is of the essence. The team aims to get a referral and meet with the individual within 24 hours of their release from jail. The alternative may be languishing behind bars where their condition deteriorates or ending up on the streets with no support.

The Criminal Justice Engagement Team was launched in 2016. It is part of the Smart Justice Program, a partnership between the county and Mercy Maricopa, the regional behavioral health authority.

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney helps mentally ill people who get in trouble with the law in Phoenix and elsewhere in Arizona. People with mental health issues are often charged with minor crimes. They may lack the ability to understand what is going on and risk incarceration for long periods. Call the firm at 602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

Is There a Link Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence?


America has experienced a series of mass shootings in recent years. After almost every tragedy, commentators and politicians talk about the potential link between mental illness and gun violence.

It’s certainly the case that some people implicated in mass shootings suffered from mental illness.  James Holmes, the shooter who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, sought psychiatric help before the shooting. Court-appointed psychiatrists testified he was mentally ill. However, his attempt to use the insanity defense proved unsuccessful and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. The psychiatrists told the court he was mentally ill but not insane.

mental illness and gun crime

is there is a link between mental illness and gun crime

Although some mass killers suffered from psychological problems, the link between mental illness and gun violence is far from automatic.

An article in The Trace points out it’s misguided to pin the blame for violence on mental health problems.

Yu Lu, a postdoctoral research fellow in behavioral health and research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told the publication numerous news reports link mental illness and gun violence. She said:

“If you look at data, if you look at actual research, there’s minimal evidence supporting this claim.”

Lu’s study Preventive Medicine considered the connection between mental health issues and gun-related behaviors.

She concluded most mental health issues — including depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, and issues like borderline personality disorder, bear little association with gun violence.

The correlation between shootings and access to guns was more obvious. People with access to guns were 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a firearm than those who didn’t have access to a firearm.

Lu and a co-researcher considered data from 663 young adults recruited from seven Texas high schools. The team caught up with them every year for eight years from 2010.

Other research supports Lu’s conclusions. A database that looked at the characteristics of mass shooters found a “tenuous connection” between mental illness and gun violence. Under 15 percent of mass shooters were psychotic.

The Treatment Advocacy Center stated about 23 percent of mass shooters demonstrated mental health problems.

The American Mental Health Counselors Association also addressed potential links between mental illness and gun crime. It concluded:

“Most people who suffer serious mental illnesses are never violent. Certain people with serious mental illness do face an elevated risk of violence during “certain high-risk periods.”

These can include an initial episode of psychosis and inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.

The association said people who suffer serious mental illness are rarely aggressive. Just 3 to 5 percent of all violence, including gun violence, is linked to mental illness.

The reality is people with serious mental illness are far more likely to become victims of violence than to carry it out. This includes in jails and prisons where other inmates target them.

The violent crime victimization rate is 12 times higher among people with serious mental illness than among the overall U.S. population.

As an attorney who helps people with mental illnesses after they are charged with crimes, I frequently have to address the misconception that mental illness and gun violence are automatically linked. Please call me at (602) 340-1999 about mental health defenses if you or a family member has been charged with a crime.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

Celebrating Our Client’s Success


One of the most satisfying experiences a defense attorney can have is seeing a client receive the care he needs and put his case behind him without spending time in prison. Today I celebrate the success of D.B., a client of mine who has recently successfully completed probation.

D.B. came to me with several charges including one class 3 felony. He had 3 prior felony convictions and an untreated, severe mental illness. He had been suffering a mental health crisis at the time, which caused him to commit the offense for which he was charged. D.B. was clearly in need of care, but his criminal history was working against him.

A person convicted of a felony who has two or more prior felony convictions will be sentenced under category three of A.R.S. § 13-703(J)—Arizona’s sentencing scheme for repeat offenders. A class 3 felony under category 3 carries a range of 7.5 to 25 years in prison, with a presumptive term of 11.25 years. It looked like J.B. was going to prison for a long time for things that happened while he was suffering a psychotic episode brought on by his untreated mental illness.

I have seen many cases like D.B.’s, and it is always a challenge to make the prosecution understand the difficulties that are unique to defendants with mental illness. I am glad to report that after some hard work, D.B. was extended a plea that allowed him to serve 3 years on probation rather than going to prison. As a term of his probation, D.B. was required to submit mental health evaluations and treatment. If he had gone to prison, his mental health would likely have worsened, and he would not be the contributing member of society he is today.

I am proud to stand with D.B. today as he completes his probation. Probation with mental health terms has not only kept D.B. out of prison, it has changed his life for the better. His mental health has improved by leaps and bounds and he never set foot in prison for this case. Although it takes a lawyer who is familiar with mental health cases to create such opportunities for people like D.B., it takes incredible effort from the defendant to turn things around and succeed like he did.

It has been my pleasure to help many others like D.B. obtain fair and positive legal results helping prosecutors and judges understand the unique challenges they face. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges related to mental illness, please contact me today.

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

Stay off Social Media if You Have Been Charged with a Crime


For most people in the 21st century using social media has become as natural as talking on the phone was in the previous century. However, social media and crime is a tricky issue.

There are clear dangers in using a medium that broadcasts your views to the wider community. People should refrain from talking about the issue on social media or even disable their accounts if they are facing criminal charges.

That can be a difficult message to convey. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter have become part of our everyday lives. For some people, posting their thoughts on social media is as natural as getting dressed to go to work.

The effects of social media and crime

social media and crime

Unfortunately, any social media posts can be used against you when you are facing criminal charges.

Many people assume their posts will not be searched by people who are not in their networks. This is not the case. One survey reveals that four in five police departments now use social media to help their criminal investigations.

CNN notes a growing number of police departments are turning to Facebook to catch criminals. Police also use the social network to gather evidence against a wide range of people suspected of criminality.

Any statements you make or images that you post online are fair game to law enforcement officials. They can determine your whereabouts at the time the crime occurred, and your actions leading up to the crime.

After you are charged, any discussions you get into with friends may be used against you. This includes private messages on social media.

Be Careful About What You Post Online

Some things you share online may jeopardize your criminal defense case. A man in Florida was charged with more than 140 felony counts after posting photos depicting him with cash, guns, and stolen items on his Instagram account.

Online behavior does not have to be this blatant to undermine your case. Merely posting how you plan to plead to a charge and why can be damaging. You can ruin the confidentiality between yourself and your lawyer by posting details about your case on social media.

Social Media and Crime – What Not to Do

Social media can get you in trouble in a wide range of ways. Don’t.

  • Post pictures of any potential crime scene
  • Post images or words about drinking alcohol if you are facing a DUI
  • Give confidential medical information relating to mental health or other issues;
  • Criticize arresting officers
  • Criticize judges
  • Post images of handling firearms if you are facing gun charges
  • Give out information that breached bail conditions
  • Post anything that could be viewed as witness intimidation;
  • Give details of potential defenses;


The best advice is avoid social media post-arrest. Ideally, disable your account. Even if you don’t post anything, a friend or family member might put something on your account that undermines your case. Anything you delete can be viewed as witness tampering.


Talk to our experienced Phoenix criminal law attorney about your case as early as possible. Communication through a lawyer is confidential and safe.  Call the Garcia Law Firm at (602) 340-1999.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged |

Supreme Court Says Executing a Man with Dementia May Violate the Constitution


The U.S. Supreme Court has devoted considerable time in recent years to questions about the death penalty for people with mental illnesses and severe learning disabilities.

A ruling in February clarified the circumstances in which an inmate with a mental disability can be executed.

The court decided an execution can take place if the accused does not remember committing the crime. However, the government cannot execute a prisoner if he is unable to understand why he has been “singled out” to die.

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled if somebody with dementia is unable to understand the reason for his or her execution, the death sentence is unconstitutional.

Concerns over executing a man with dementia

Executing a man with dementia may be unconstitutional

The decision was handed down as the court blocked the execution of 68-year-old Vernon Madison.

Alabama imposed the death penalty on Madison. Justice Clarence Thomas issued a temporary stay just 30 minutes before Madison was due to die. The court is considering an appeal from the defense team.

Madison spent more than three decades in solitary confinement awaiting execution on death row. He shot and killed a police officer who responded to a dispute involving Madison and his girlfriend in 1985.

Since a judge sentenced him to death, Madison suffered numerous strokes. He suffers from vascular dementia. His attorney said he has no memory of the crime. The Supreme Court took on the case to consider whether executing Madison violates the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” set out in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As well as the dementia issue which is pertinent to mental illness, Madison’s lawyers argued the death sentence is unfair. They point out an Alabama law enacted in 2017 no longer allows judicial override. A judge imposed the death penalty in 1994 after a jury recommended life in prison.

The use of the death penalty in Arizona has stalled. The Death Penalty Information Center pointed out the state executed Robert Moorman in 2012. His attorneys argued he was mentally disabled and suffered mental abuse for years. Prosecutors claimed Moorman’s mental capacity when he committed murder was slightly above the legal threshold for mental impairment. Moorman killed and dismembered his adoptive mother.

If you or a family member has been charged with a crime in Arizona, please contact the Garcia Law Firm at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Violent Crime |

Appeals Court Rules Arizona Man Had a Right to Reject an Insanity Plea


When a man who said he was haunted by demons repeatedly stabbed his cellmate in Arizona, an insanity defense probably seemed like the natural way to proceed.

However, in a recent ruling, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the defendant’s attorney violated his Sixth Amendment rights by entering the plea.

Jonathan Lee Read stabbed his cellmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Phoenix in 2014. He claimed demons drove him to commit the crime. He was indicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to bodily harm, and assault with a deadly weapon resulting in serious bodily injury.

Court ruled inmate could refuse insanity plea

An inmate had a right to refuse an insanity plea

A Cronkite News report noted Read wanted to represent himself in his defense. A judge found his actions to be bizarre and appointed a lawyer to represent him.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted the decision was made without the benefit of a 2018 Supreme Court case. The highest court in the nation ruled that while lawyers are responsible for strategy in a case, they must still adhere to the defendant’s wishes.

Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkin conceded that the trial judge faced a dilemma because the demonic possession defense was destined to fail. He said Read was clearly mentally ill. A strategy that did not involve the insanity defense was bound to fail.

Cronkite News quoted University of Arizona law professor Barbara E. Bergman who said the appeals court reached the correct decision.

Read said he had no memory of the serious attack on his cellmate. Correctional staff recorded no details of issues with his cellmate before the attack.

He was initially ruled incompetent to stand trial. Experts found him competent following another evaluation four months later. When his attorney said he would pursue an insanity plea, Read underwent a further test.

In all three evaluations, Read was found to be suffering from a schizotypal personality and a “cannabis-use disorder.”

The trial court at first agreed Read could represent himself. It then reversed itself and reappointed an attorney for him over Read’s objections.

The trial court said the Constitution can give representation to people who still suffer from severe mental illness if they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings on their own. The appeals court disagreed.

If you or a family member suffers from a mental disorder and has been charged with a crime, please contact our Arizona defense lawyer today.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

How Effective is Rule 11 in Arizona Criminal Cases?


Rule 11 in Arizona can be used when a defendant is suspected of being mentally incompetent. The hearing is granted when there is substantial evidence of mental incompetence. Doctors make the decision on the competency of the accused to stand trial. There is some debate about how effective Rule 11 is in Arizona.

The high number of people with mental illnesses in Arizona prisons challenges notions that the rule is a wholly effective safeguard.

How effective is Rule 11

Rule 11 involves a medical examination

According to the American Council of Civil Liberties (ACLU), more than half of the people housed in Arizona’s prisons suffer from mental disorders.

Why is Rule 11 Failing to Keep Mentally Ill People out of Prisons?

The most important point about Rule 11 is it does not prevent people who suffer from mental illnesses from standing trial.

The US Supreme Court set out the scope of the rule in Dusky v. United States. In this important case, Dusky was charged with kidnapping and rape.

Dusky was a schizophrenic. However, he stood trial and was convicted. His lawyers argued he should not have been convicted because he was not competent to stand trial. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for a retrial in 1960.

The justices said to be competent to stand trial, a defendant must be able to rationally consult with his lawyer and have a rational and factual understanding” of the proceedings. The justices said a brief mental status exam alone was not enough.

While Rule 11 is important to people with mental illnesses who stand trial it does not prevent anyone who is mentally ill from being dealt with by the courts. A defendant must be unable to understand what’s going on or to advise his or her lawyer of how to proceed to be found incompetent.

Many people with mental illnesses are still aware of the proceedings and are able to consult with a lawyer.

However, in some cases, a defendant is not aware of the criminal process around him. It’s only fair for a full evaluation to be made at this point.

Rule 11 can be invoked for three situations – standing trial, entering the plea, or assisting a lawyer in their defense. The motion must also include the reasons why the party filing the motion believes the defendant’s competency may be an issue.

Although there has been some criticism of Rule 11 in the past by those who claim it allows people to ‘play’ the system many Rule 11 ‘revolving door’ claims were made many years ago.

The process is a thorough one that involves two doctors. At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney has considerable experience in Rule 11 cases. You can read more about the competency/Rule 11 on our website or call today at (602) 340-1999.


Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Man Accused of Tucson Killing Had a History of Mental Illness


People who are charged with serious crimes of violence sometimes have a past of mental illness. Police said a man accused of killing a woman in Tucson earlier this year had a long history of psychiatric disorders.

A report in said the man implicated in the death of a 61-year-old woman struggled with mental illness and violence.

Man arrested over Tucson killing has mental health issues

Man accused of Tucson killing suffered mental health issues

Robert J. Ocano, 22, is being held on a $1 million bond. Police accused him of attacking a woman who let him into her apartment the previous day and gave him food.

Police said he returned to the apartment of the woman and launched a violent attack on her.

The report said police previously arrested Ocano for a violent crime in the Tucson area. He was arrested for assault and disorderly conduct close to the scene of the recent crime in 2017, according to reports.

The report cited at least three cases against him in Tucson City Court since 2017 involving violence.

After allegedly grabbing a woman at an apartment complex laundry room in 2017, the case was sent to Superior Court to assess Ocano’s competence for court proceedings. He was found to be incompetent and unable to be restored to competency. However, he was not deemed to be a threat to public safety. The report stated charges against him were dropped. He was released to a mental health facility.

Police charged Ocano over two violent incidents that were later dismissed.

The article quoted Allen Merritt, deputy city attorney, who said the dismissals were linked to the defendant’s mental health issues and his behavior was deemed to be mostly threats.

The deputy city attorney referred to a balancing act when a defendant with mental illness is considered not competent to stand trial and is unable to be restored to competency. When the individual is not considered a threat to public safety, charges are generally dropped. Merritt said:

“(Ocano) made some threats that were disturbing … but when the officers did their investigation, he didn’t have the apparent ability to follow through on the threat.”

Ocano’s record pointed to a lifelong of mental health issues, according to

Records showed he was a client at the behavioral health center La Frontera from 2003, when he would have been just 7 years old, until 2015. He returned in 2017. After the charges from the laundry-room attack were dismissed in April 2018, he was readmitted. The account quoted records filed at Superior Court. La Frontera considered Ocano to be seriously mentally ill.

La Frontera CEO Dan Ranieri said people who are found to be incompetent by the courts but are not a public danger receive outpatient care like other patients. They receive assistance with issues like therapy, medication, housing, and case management.  La Frontera can take additional steps if a patient is deemed to be a danger, but most people with mental illness are not violent, Ranieri said.

Competency and Rule 11, which determines if a defendant is fit to stand trial, is an important part of Arizona’s criminal justice system. At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney works on competency cases. Please call the firm today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Guilty Except Insane Plea


On January 29, 2017, an ambulance containing four people was pulling in to the Phoenix Baptist Hospital in Phoenix when L.S. pulled up alongside the ambulance and fired a handgun into the patient compartment and drove away. Luckily, no one was injured.

About 2 hours later police were called to a Circle K in Phoenix where L.S. had fired a gun in to the air while others in the vicinity looked on. Although L.S. resisted and fought police, they were able to disarm and detain L.S. without and serious injury to L.S., police, or others.

L.S.’s actions were the product of a prolonged psychotic episode caused by a serious undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. He was experiencing hallucinations and did not understand the dangerousness of his actions. L.S. was charged with a total of 14 felonies and could have spent as much as 70 years or more in prison.

Today, with the help of Bernardo Garcia, L.S. entered a plea of Guilty Except Insane in the Maricopa County Superior court. Guilty Except Insane pleas are notoriously difficult to litigate in Arizona and only rarely see completion. Today, rather than 70 years or more in the Arizona Department of Corrections, L.S. will spend no time in prison and instead spend some time at the Arizona State Hospital. There he will receive the highest quality and most comprehensive care, eventually culminating in his full reintegration to society.

Today’s victory is the result of countless hours of hard work and Mr. Garcia’s unique expertise in the area of criminal defense for those with mental illness. Mr. Garcia has unparalleled experience with Guilty Except Insane pleas in the State of Arizona, with successful cases in four Arizona counties (Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma).

Mental illness is often misunderstood in the criminal justice system, and it takes a unique set of skills to provide the best representation for our society’s most vulnerable people. Bernardo Garcia has over 25 years of experience as an attorney and unmatched skill as counsel for defendants who suffer from mental illnesses.

Posted in Arizona, Arizona Laws, Mental Health |