Mental Health is the Focus of Anti-Gun Legislation Move in Arizona


Arizona has one of the worst ratios of students to school counselors in the nation. Concerns that a lack of intervention sparks potential gun violence led high school students in the state to make mental health concerns the focus of an anti-gun legislation move.

March for Our Lives Arizona, a movement led by teenagers, called for reforms earlier this year. It has over 65 clubs in schools across the state as well as seven regional groups, and members in every single congressional district.

March for our Lives Arizona supports anti-gun legislation
School shooting sparks support for anti-gun legislation

The teens brought a bill to the state capitol in February, reported The Nation. The legislation called for school districts to be required to draw up school-safety plans.

The plans would outline how each school would help students facing mental-health crises. The legislation would require schools to develop partnerships with agencies and outside community organizations. Students wanted partnerships to allow them to be referred for help when counselors cannot provide long-term care.

The legislation ended up stuck in the House Rules Committee. The students pledged to keep pressing for mental health reforms in schools.

Jordan Harb and Emma Rowland, members of March for Our Lives Arizona who wrote the article, said the students would keep pressing for change a year after 17 staff and students were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They wrote:

“The mental-health crisis cannot be solved with one bill. But it is a step in the right direction, and we will keep fighting for better support in schools, because ignoring students’ mental health is a threat to school safety. We showed that when we introduced our bill on February 6, that we have a voice.”

Shootings at Virginia Tech and Aurora in Colorado were carried out by mentally disturbed people. However, the connection between mental illness and gun violence is tenuous, according to some studies.

James Holmes, the shooter who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, reached out for psychiatric help before the shooting. Court-appointed psychiatrists said he was mentally ill. He was not successful in claiming an insanity defense in his murder trial. The psychiatrists told the court he was mentally ill but not insane.

People often wrongly assume mentally ill people are likely to be violent. If you or a mentally ill family has been arrested, please call attorney Bernardo Garcia at (602) 340-1999.


Posted in Mental Health, Uncategorized |

When Can an Employer Ask About Your Criminal History in Arizona?


It’s hard to put your criminal past behind you in Arizona. Job and college applications ask you about previous offenses and a potential employer can quiz you about it from the outset.

Earlier this year, a bill that would have shielded job applicants from questions about their criminality early in the application process, failed to progress.

When can an Arizona employer ask about your criminal history?
When an employer can ask about your criminal history

Senate Bill 1437 was also known as “ban the box” legislation. The legislation would have prevented employers in the private sectors from asking job applicants about their criminal histories until employers gave applicants a job interview. The judiciary committee killed the “ban the box” bill in March, reported AZMirror.

The bill would also have limited questions to criminal records within the preceding seven years only. SB1437 stipulated job applicants would only have to reveal convictions directly related to the job. The bill passed the Senate and was assigned to the House Rules Committee, but never received a hearing.

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee questioned the ability of the legislature to govern private employers.

Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix said he did not believe the bill was constitutional and predicted the courts would strike it down. He questioned the authority of the state to restrict private sector employers in asking about criminal records. He said:

“I know a lot of states do it with government entities, but I don’t know if we have the legal ability to go into a private company and tell them what they can’t look at.”

The failure of the bill to progress means an employer can ask you about your criminal history in Arizona from the outset.

The bill was known as the “ban the box” legislation because the applicant must check on job applications if they’ve been convicted of a felony.

The legislation was restricted to companies with over 15 employees. It would not have applied to jobs that require fingerprint clearance from the state, positions at public airports, jobs in firefighting, law enforcement, prosecutorial agencies, emergency medical services transport, court security or probation offices.

Other criminal justice bills died in the legislature this session. They included House Bill 2424, a measure that would have addressed an ongoing issue with Class 6 undesignated felonies. It would have automatically designated them as Class 1 misdemeanors.

Class 6 felonies are the lowest level felony in the state. Under the existing law, they are automatically considered felonies unless otherwise designated as a misdemeanor.

The bill aimed to change the law so as a defendant would only be convicted of a felony if he or she failed to complete the required programming. The bill unanimously passed on the House floor but did not appear on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda.

Your criminal history in Arizona can seriously impact your job prospects. Talk to our criminal defense lawyer today about the best course of action if you have been charged with a crime at (602) 340-1999.


Posted in Uncategorized |

Brain Scan Evidence Plays an Increasing Role in Criminal Trials


Brain scan evidence is a fast-evolving area of science. Although it’s still developing, these techniques are playing an increasing role in criminal trials.

Research by Duke Law found hundreds of cases over the last 10 years were influenced by the results of brain scan analysis. The results of MRI and CAT scans that can point to brain abnormalities were used to make a case for leniency in about 5 percent of murder cases, reported.

However, the use of brain scan evidence rose to a quarter of all cases in death penalty trials. The evidence is often used to support a claim that the defendant lacked the capacity to control his actions.

Brain scan evidence plays important role in criminal trials
Brain scan evidence plays key role in criminal trials

It’s not clear if this evidence is beneficial or detrimental to the defendant in these cases.

Some supporters of brain scan evidence argue it may make a judge or juror less likely to want to punish a defendant for his or her crime. Evidence of a brain disorder suggests the defendant had less intent to commit the crime.

Alternatively, brain scan evidence may make the offender appear to be more predestined to violence and more dangerous. Under this argument, he or she would be more likely to re-offend in the future.

A survey by found the use of neurobiological evidence like MRIs is more likely to lead to shorter prison sentences and longer involuntary hospitalization terms than the equivalent psychological evidence.

The evidence suggested brain scan evidence is more effective in establishing an insanity defense. People found to be guilty except insane in Arizona face a term of confinement in a secure institution equivalent to the length of time they would have served in prison if they were found guilty.

Brain scan evidence can play an important part in criminal cases but there is a limit to the ability of MRIs and CAT scans to pinpoint complicated mental disorders.

When mental illness is a factor in a criminal proceeding it’s important to talk to a lawyer who is well versed in these issues. If you or a family member with a mental illness has been arrested in Arizona, please call me at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged |

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 |