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.

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