Communicating Your Mental Illness to Your Attorney as Honestly and Accurately as Possible


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Working with a trusted criminal defense lawyer that you can be honest and open with is important. To receive the best legal representation, you need to always be up front with your attorney about your mental illness and the details surrounding your case. Remember, they are on your side so that you go through the justice system fairly and receive a fair punishment.

Communication starts with your attorney. The right attorney will encourage you to be honest and open the line of communication. Since they specialize in mental health cases, they know and understand what you are going through. All of your rights are protected, including your medical information and your legal issues. An experienced mental illness attorney will know how to break that lack of communication and will deliver compassionate, supportive and non-judgmental legal advice and representation.

When there are no secrets between you and your attorney, it will only help your case. As long as you let your attorney know all of the details, they will be able to help you receive a fair and reasonable punishment. If you are being charged with a crime and suffer from a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression or other mental illnesses, highly consider visiting an experienced and skilled mental illness criminal defense attorney for legal advice and representation.

Garcia Law

With more than 25 years of experience, Garcia Law offers seasoned professionals that communicate fully with their clients. They know their clients’ rights and options, always making them feel like they are on their side. From a wide range of legal issues from felonies to misdemeanors, Garcia Law has the proper education and knowledge to fight for you. Just because you have a mental illness, doesn’t mean you should be silenced. Garcia Law will fight to ensure that you receive a fair case and punishment.

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

Arizona is the Second Worst State for Addressing Mental Health Issues


Access to mental health services is patchy across the nation. This is particularly the case in Arizona. A recent survey found Arizona is the second worst state in the nation for addressing mental health issues.

The information was revealed in a study from the nonprofit Mental Health America. Mental Health America analyzed the extent of mental illness in each state and the District of Columbia utilizing statistics on adults and youth with a diagnosed condition, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse issues.

The Phoenix New Times reported on how the group researched the ease of access to care by looking at the percentage of adults and young people with mental illness who reported not receiving treatment for their conditions, having unmet needs, and not being able to see a doctor due to the expense.

addressing mental health issues in Arizona

Arizona has a poor record for mental health services

Only Oregon ranked lower than Arizona in terms of access to mental health care. The best access was found in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and South Dakota.

The New Times report noted some improvements in Arizona. Among experts in behavioral health, Arizona’s Medicaid program is seen as a model for the integration of mental health and substance abuse services. Arizona agreed to improve its services for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid and have severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia in 2014.

Michael Shafer, president of Mental Health America’s Arizona chapter, told the New Times Arizona’s main failing is in relation to those with less severe and more common conditions such as depression or anxiety.

He said Arizona lacks primary-care physicians who can screen for mental illness and refer patients to specialists before the disease has progressed much too far.

The neglect of people with low-level mental illnesses means they are not getting help. The conditions are becoming more serious before intervention and they may end up in the criminal justice system.

Writing in the Arizona Capitol Times, Scott Cummings, state president of Care1st Health Plan Arizona, warned the suicide rate in Arizona is 60 percent higher than the national average. He said there are many contributing factors like drugs, drugs or access to care.

Cummings called for the state to focus its efforts on integrating screening for mental illnesses into primary and specialty care visits to allow the early identification of those with signs and symptoms of physical and behavioral health conditions to be treated in a holistic way.

The deficiencies in Arizona’s mental health provisions mean many defendants are not getting their needs met before they reach the criminal justice system. An experienced Arizona attorney with a long track record of helping the mentally ill can assist you or a family member after your arrest. Please contact the Garcia Law Firm today for a consultation.

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

What is the Guilty Except Insane Defense in Arizona?


The guilty except insane defense in Arizona, also known as GEI, can be brought when the guilt of a defendant is not in doubt but his or her mental capacity is.

This affirmative defense allows the defendant to show the existence of a serious “mental disease or defect.” Not all mental disorders allow you to claim the GEI defense. Conditions such as withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, impulse control or psychosexual disorders do not constitute legal insanity.

Likewise, conditions like sudden loss of control, passion, moral decadence or depravity do not quality for GEI unless the defendant suffers from an underlying abnormality or a disease. The condition must be of such severity that the defendant was unaware the criminal act was wrong.

The guilty except insane defense

Arizona’s guilty except insane defense

The insanity defense is controversial in all jurisdictions. Many commentators believe the insanity defense excuses people who are blameworthy and deserve to be punished for their offenses.

Insanity defenses are derived from the M’Naghten rule which was developed in 19th Century England.

Daniel M’Naghten believed he was the target of a dark conspiracy involving the pope and British Prime Minister Robert Peel. In 1843, the woodworker traveled to 10 Downing Street to ambush the Prime Minister, but mistakenly shot and killed Peel’s secretary.

Several psychiatrists testified M’Naghten was delusional during the trial. The jury agreed, declaring M’Naghten not guilty by reason of insanity.

The case caused a public outcry. A year later, a panel of British judges outlined the legal standard that has been used subsequently in Britain and jurisdictions that followed the British model. The M’Naghten rule says a defendant may be acquitted of a crime if he or she labored “under such defect of reason from disease of the mind” as to not realize what they were doing or why it was a crime. It’s also known as the “right-wrong” test.

In Arizona, the seriousness of the alleged offense has a bearing on the way a GEI case will proceed.

In cases not involving a homicide, a death threat, or actual or threatened bodily harm, a defendant found guilty except insane will be committed to a state mental institution for 75 days. The court will initiate a hearing within 75 days of the date of commitment to establish if the defendant is entitled to be released from confinement, or if the accused meets the standards for civil commitment. The defendant is required to show that he or she no longer suffers from a mental disease or defect, and does not pose a danger. If the defendant or his attorney is unable to produce clear and convincing evidence, the defendant could be civilly committed.

In more serious cases involving death, or threatened death and bodily harm, the process is different. If the defendant raises the GEI defense, the court must initially establish if a reasonable basis exists to make the plea. A recent court ruling established criminal defendants who voluntarily undergo a mental health examination after claiming an insanity defense must provide the results of this examination to the prosecution in their case.

If the court is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis for the GEI plea, the court may appoint a qualified mental health expert to evaluate the accused. Alternatively, the court can order the defendant committed for up to 30 days to a secure state-run mental health facility for evaluation. In either instance, the defendant provides a copy of their report for the court, as well as to the State and the defense counsel.

If the defendant is found to be guilty except insane by a judge in a bench trial or a jury, the court is required to sentence the accused to a term of confinement equivalent to the time of the sentence imposed had they been found guilty. This term of confinement is calculated minus the addition of sentence enhancers like prior felonies.

The defendant in GEI cases is confined to a mental health facility rather than a state prison. The defendant will be reviewed by the Psychiatric Security Review Board or PSRB during that time.   If the review board finds the defendant restored to a mental state where they are safe to rejoin society, they may be released into the community subject to conditions. The PSRB continues to maintain jurisdiction over the individual for the term of confinement.

The insanity defense In Arizona is complicated. You should hire a criminal defense attorney with a long track record in this area. Call us for a consultation at (602) 340-1999

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

ACLU Warns Solitary Confinement Fuels Mental Health Problems in Prison


Solitary confinement is used widely and often indiscriminately in the America prison system. Although placing a prisoner for hours on their own may make life easier for prison staff, this method is often detrimental to inmates. The ACLU has warned solitary confinement fuels mental health problems in prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union highlighted the increased use of solitary confinement in the prison system in a recent campaign.

The ACLU claims long-term isolation of inmates does nothing to rehabilitate prisoners. It exacerbates mental illness in those who suffer from disorders and even causes it in prisoners who were healthy when they entered solitary confinement. The ACLU also points out solitary confinement is costly.

Solitary confinement aggravates mental health problems

Solitary confinement is challenged

The ACLU launched its campaign to stop prisoners being held alone in 2016. It follows considerable academic research on the negative effects of solitary confinement on inmates.

Writing in Psychology Today, psychiatrist Terry Kupers described how he toured the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail and testified as a psychiatric expert in a lawsuit the ACLU brought on behalf of prisoners claiming the jail lacked adequate mental healthcare facilities.

By the late 1980s, solitary confinement was used routinely in so-called “supermax” prisons.

Kupers recounted the story of one inmate called Tanya, who highlighted the detrimental effect solitary confinement can have on an inmate’s mental health.

Tanya (not her real name) was confined to supermax isolation after violating prison rules. She spent two years alone in a cell before being returned to the general prison population.

Kupers reported the treatment had an extreme effect on the inmate, causing anxiety attacks and paranoia. She associated solitary confinement with being locked in the closet as a child and experienced many “reliving” experiences.  Her mother routinely beat her before locking her up. She believed she was reliving the trauma on two occasions. Tanya experienced flashbacks that impacted her mental health.

Kupers concluded only a massive reduction of the prison population and the upgrading of community mental health and rehabilitation programming could help deal with mental illness problems in the criminal justice system.

An article in The Sentencing Project noted Dr. Stuart Grassian of Harvard University discovered a third of people in solitary confinement are “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.”

He said people held in solitary confinement pose the highest suicide risk. Eventually being locked up alone place burdens on the families of inmates and communities as they seek to adjust to life on the outside and may leave them more likely to re-offend.

The article noted 80,000 to 100,000 adults are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons on any given day. It is not unusual for these prisoners to remain in their cells for 23 hours a day for weeks, months, or even years.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we are well aware of how badly mentally ill inmates fare in the Arizona prison system. We follow many robust defense strategies for mentally ill people and fight for them to avoid jail time. Please call us today for a consultation at (602) 340-1999.


Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

When is An Assault Elevated to an Aggravated Assault in Arizona?


Assault is one of the most common offenses in Arizona. Whether you are facing misdemeanor assault or felony aggravated assault charges, the consequences of the crime can serious and devastating on your life. Aggravated assault in Arizona should not be taken lightly.

Misdemeanor assault charges can be elevated to felonies when certain aggravating factors surround the assault. Aggravated assault crimes involve injury to another person and are taken seriously by the courts.

What is aggravated assault in Arizona

Defining aggravated assault in Arizona

It’s important to hire a defense lawyer from the outset in assault cases. The attorney will be able to introduce defenses such as whether your actions stemmed from a fear of attack or were in self-defense at an early stage.

The most common forms of assault in Arizona are simple assaults. These crimes range from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 3 misdemeanor.

You can be charged with an assault without causing injury to anyone. A class 3 misdemeanor simply requires the state to prove that the defendant knowingly touched another person with the intent to injure, insult or provoke the other person. A mere light nudge or a poke can lead to an assault charge if it is a provocative gesture.

You can be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor assault for putting someone else in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury. This charge does not require you to even touch another individual. A threat of serious injury such as a raised fist or angry words can lead to an assault charge.

A class 1 misdemeanor assault can land you in jail for six months. It’s the most serious form of a misdemeanor because the state must prove you intended to cause physical injury, whether intentionally, recklessly or knowingly. The defendant must have caused a physical injury to be convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor but it can be a minor injury such as a bruise.

An aggravated assault in Arizona is a felony defined under A.R.S. § 13-1204 (A). In some cases, there may be a gray area between a misdemeanor assault and a felony assault. Defendants can serve up to 21 years in jail for an aggravated assault. You may be charged with an aggravated assault if you:

  1. Cause serious physical injury to another;
  2. Use a deadly weapon or dangerous object to use as a weapon in the crime;
  3. Commit assault by means of any force that leads to temporary but substantial disfigurement; broken bones, temporary but substantial loss, impairment of any bodily organ or another body part;
  4. Commit assault when the victim is physically restrained, bound, or while the victim’s capacity to resist the alleged assault is substantially impaired;
  5. Commit an assault on a child under 15 if you are over the age of 18;
  6. Assault someone after entering the private home of another with the intent to commit assault;
  7. Commit a misdemeanor assault in violation of a valid protection order or restraining order.
  8. Take a police officer’s firearm or other weapon or attempt to wrest it from the officer;
  9. Commit any level of assault against a police officer, peace officers, other law enforcement officials, public defenders or criminal prosecutors, firefighters, paramedics, teachers or school employees, or licensed health care professionals while they are on their job.

The state of Arizona can be relentless in prosecuting people accused of assault. In borderline cases, a simple assault is often elevated to an aggravated assault.

If you or a family member has been charged with aggravated assault in Arizona, we are available to talk to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English or Spanish. Please call us at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Violent Crime | Tagged |

How to Help a Mentally Ill Family Member who has been Arrested


The arrest of a family member is always distressing. When your family member suffers from a mental illness, the pressures on the family are exacerbated and it can seem overwhelming.

If your family member has been locked up, you may not even know his or her whereabouts. Once the relative has been tracked down, the issue of medication becomes a pressing one.

If your relative requires medication, he or she should inform the jail staff. This may not always happen. If the jail staff has not been informed you should ask your relative’s psychiatrist to contact the jail. In cases where the jail fails to work with a psychiatrist, contact your family doctor. Ensure a written record is made of your request.

Help on the arrest of a mentally ill family member

What to do when a mentally ill family member is arrested

Often relatives panic after the arrest of a mentally ill family member. Although it’s understandable to want to get your relative medication fast, you should be methodical in your approach. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests your request should contain the following information:

  • The diagnosis of your loved one
  • The type of medication required
  • Contact information for their doctor
  • Your contact information

Every year, as many as 2 million people with mental illnesses are booked into jails. Often the arresting officers have little comprehension of their illnesses. Your family member may be bewildered and have no idea of the nature of the charges being brought or their implications.

In these cases, it’s important to contact an attorney with decades of experience in defending the mentally ill from the outset. An attorney can protect the rights of people suffering from a wide range of conditions and help ensure they are not being abused by the system.

Family members who fear their loved one is being mistreated can also contact their state’s protection and advocacy agency and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Relatives can help their loved one by getting them out of a cell as quickly as possible. Jails in Arizona house many people with mental disorders who were arrested on misdemeanors but cannot afford bail. After an initial appearance, the judge will usually bail the defendant on a cash-only bond or a secured appearance bond. A cash-only bond is where the entire amount must be tendered in cash. A secured appearance bond is where some of the bond amounts can be satisfied in terms of assets that can be provided, as well as typically 10 percent in cash.

Family members can help by providing cash or assets to get their loved one out of jail as quickly as possible. It’s important for family members to stay involved in the process and make sure the defendant shows up to scheduled court appearances.

Family members should work closely with the attorney. Ideally, make contact with the attorney at an early stage and leave contact details if the attorney is not immediately available.

You should attend the initial hearing and introduce yourself to the lawyer or the public defender appointed in the case. Inform the lawyer you are happy to help. Provide brief details of your loved one’s medical details in writing.

Talk to the attorney about jail diversion programs and alternatives like mental health courts. Stay in regular communication with the lawyer. You should be aware the lawyer represents the defendant and may not be able to share all relevant information with family members. You can ask your loved one to sign a release that allows legal counsel to share information with you.

The criminal justice system in Arizona is tough for defendants. It’s particularly difficult for those with mental illness. Family members play a vital support role and can work effectively with attorneys.

I have more than 25 years of experience as an Arizona mental illness defense lawyer. I’m well aware of the importance of families after the arrest of a defendant with mental illness. Please call me if your loved one has been arrested at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

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 , |