Can a Lawyer Insist on an Insanity Defense Against a Client’s Wishes?

24June
2019

The question of whether a lawyer can insist on an insanity defense against a client’s wishes was recently examined in a case heard before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a lawyer cannot insist on an insanity defense against a client’s wishes, even if the defendant shows clear signs of insanity.

Can a lawyer insist on an insanity defense?
A lawyer cannot insist on an insanity defense even when the alternative may keep a defendant in jail, court rules

The case involved an Arizona man who said he stabbed his cellmate numerous times because demons drove him to it. The justices granted Jonathan Read a new trial after ruling his lawyer wrongly pressed an insanity defense against his wishes.

Arizona has a guilty except insane defense. On occasions, our attorney will recommend a defendant uses this defense. However, it’s important to secure the consent of the accused.  The decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates why.

The panel said Read’s lawyer violated his Sixth Amendment rights by entering the insanity plea on his behalf in stabbing of Read’s cellmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Phoenix in 2014.

Read was indicted in 2015 on a count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and another count of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm. He stabbed his cellmate 13 times with a knife on May 31, 2014.

Read said he wanted to represent himself. The judge in his case appointed a lawyer to represent him. The judge said Read’s actions were “decidedly bizarre.” He said Read’s arguments in defense to the charges against him were “nonsensical.”

The 9th Circuit panel ruled that the trial judge made his decision without the benefit of a 2018 Supreme Court case. That case established while attorneys are responsible for the legal strategy in a case, they must still comply with the defendant’s wishes.

Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote that the trial judge faced a difficult dilemma.

He said he had to decide whether to allow a mentally ill defendant to eschew a plausible defense of insanity in favor of one “based in delusion” that had no chance of success.  

While Read’s defense of demonic possession would have been ineffective, the circuit court ruled it was what he wanted.

The Circuit Court decision was backed by University of Arizona law professor Barbara E. Bergman. She said the appeals court did the correct thing.  She said the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution gives the right to the effective “assistance of counsel.”

However, even in cases in which the defendant suffers from a mental illness, the attorney is still an assistant. The final decision rests with the defendant.

 Read said he had no memory of the attack on his cellmate. Court record said they had no disagreements before the attack.

Read was initially ruled incompetent to stand trial. He was later found competent after another evaluation. When his attorney confirmed he would pursue an insanity plea, Read underwent another evaluation.

In three evaluations, doctors found Read had a schizotypical personality and a “cannabis-use disorder.”

If you or a family member with a mental disorder is accused of a crime, you should consult our Arizona criminal defense lawyer. Bernardo Garcia can discuss the insanity defense and your options. Please contact us as soon as possible.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Celebrating Our Client’s Success

21May
2019

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 |

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

14May
2019

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?

8May
2019

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

6May
2019

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 Tuscon.com 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 Tuscon.com.

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 |

Man Accused of Tucson Killing Had a History of Mental Illness

2May
2019

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

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.

Tucson killing suspect suffered from mental illness

Man accused of Tucson Killing had mental illness history

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 Tuscon.com.

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, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

How Often are Defendants Found Guilty Except Insane in Arizona?

11April
2019

The guilty except insane defense in Arizona is used in a relatively small number of cases. GEI, also known as the insanity defense, is difficult to prove in our state.

A report on PBS noted lawyers raise the insanity defense in less than 1 percent of felony cases nationwide and is successful in a fraction of these cases.

An eight-state study commissioned by the National Institute of Mental Health revealed under 1 percent of cases involved the insanity defense. About a quarter of those cases were successful. The vast majority of those cases, about 90 percent, involved defendants who suffered a mental illness.

The Guilty Except Insane in defense Arizona

How common is the Guilty Except Insane defense in Arizona?

Arizona places limits on the insanity or guilty except insane offense. Four states – Kansas, Utah, Idaho, and Montana – have abolished the insanity defense. Nevertheless, defendants are allowed to present evidence of diminished mental capacity to negate the prosecution’s claim they acted with criminal intent.

This evidence is barred from a trial in Arizona, making a GEI defense challenging to assert.

Arizona law states a person may be found guilty except insane “if at the time of the commission of the criminal act the person was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that the person did not know the criminal act was wrong.”

The definition of a mental disease or defect does not include disorders caused by acute voluntary intoxication or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, defects of character, psychosexual disorders or impulse control disorders.

If you believe a family member suffers from a mental condition that warrants the insanity defense, it’s important to hire an Arizona criminal defense attorney who focuses on helping mentally ill defendants.

Where a reasonable basis exists for a GEI plea in cases involving actual or threatened death or serious bodily harm, the court can appoint a qualified mental health expert, or commit the defendant for up to 30 days to a secure mental health facility for an evaluation.

If a judge or jury finds the defendant to be guilty except insane the court is required to sentence the defendant to a confinement term equal to the prison sentence he or she would have served had they been found guilty. Previous felonies are not taken into consideration in the calculation of the term.

GEI cases are complicated in Arizona. The odds are stacked against the defendant. It’s important to hire an attorney with considerable experience in this area. Bernardo Garcia has represented hundreds of people diagnosed with a mental illness over more than a quarter of a century of practice. Call him today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

How do the Arizona Courts Treat Juvenile Defendants with Mental Illnesses?

27March
2019

Many young people with mental illnesses end up in the Arizona courts. According to the AMA Journal of Ethics, about 70 percent of youth involved with the justice system face at least one mental health issue compared to just 22 percent of youth in the general population.

Juvenile defendants with mental illnesses may be treated differently to other offenders and end up in diversionary programs that keep them out of incarceration.

Juvenile Defendants with Mental Illnesses

How courts deal with Juvenile Defendants with Mental Illnesses

However, when a juvenile offender with a mental health condition appears in a juvenile court, the judge considers a range of issues including mental health evaluations, the young person’s prior history, and psychological testing.

Many non-profits and other groups support diversion programs. Mental Health America states:

“Effective diversion is the essential first step in accessing community-based, integrated services before the juvenile justice system is invoked, and if the aim is treatment more than punishment, as is usually professed in juvenile justice principles.”

Arizona has developed procedures to identify young people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system.

The National Conference of State Legislatures in its report Mental Health Needs of Juvenile Offenders points out Arizona, Colorado, California, and New Hampshire implemented courtroom procedures for attorneys and judges to request mental health screenings for juveniles caught up in delinquency proceedings.

Arizona is one of at least 10 states to address competency in its juvenile delinquency statute. Arizona states a juvenile does not need to have an underlying mental defect, disease, or disability to be found incompetent.

The report points out a failure to address and treat mental health issues at an early age can be devastating for young people later in life.

Children with unaddressed mental health needs may enter a juvenile justice system ill-equipped to help them. Institutions often release them without access to ongoing mental health treatment.

While Arizona has diversion programs, the state lags behind neighbors like California in the provision of mental health courts for juveniles.

The experienced mental health lawyer at the Garcia Law Firm can help ensure a juvenile family member’s needs are met in the criminal justice system. Call us at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

If Someone is SMI, Does that Make Him Incompetent in Arizona?

21March
2019

Serious mental illness (SMI) is a term used people who have certain mental health diagnoses in Arizona. They struggle to keep control of their lives because of the condition.

The fact a defendant is diagnosed with SMI does not automatically mean he will be ruled incompetent in a criminal proceeding. His attorney may have grounds to make the case if his condition is severe enough.

Why an SMI may not equate to incompetence in Arizona

Does an SMI mean incompetence in Arizona?

During a criminal proceeding in Arizona, the defense attorney may ask for a Rule 11 evaluation of his client when SMI is an issue. Under Rule 11, known as the competency rule, the defendant has the right to a full mental examination and hearing if reasonable grounds exist for it.

Rule 11 hearings usually take place when a defendant is believed to be mentally incompetent. Substantial evidence of mental incompetence is required by medical professionals.

A hearing takes place when reasonable grounds exist to suggest the defendant is not able to understand the nature of the criminal proceeding against him or to assist in his or her defense.

This is not always synonymous with serious mental illness. Some people who are SMI are capable of understanding the criminal proceedings and can give coherent help and advice to their legal representatives. Some serious mental illnesses involve mood swings and periods of incapacity as well as lucid periods.

Rule 11 was enacted to make sure the defendant has the mental ability to understand what is going on around him. Criminal trials are adversarial and can disadvantage people who are not aware of what’s happening.

Once a motion has been entered under Rule 11, the court will determine whether reasonable grounds exist to examine the defendant for competency. The court requires “sufficient evidence” to determine if reasonable grounds exist for a competency hearing. The court often appoints an expert to conduct a preliminary examination.

The Crisis Response Network characterizes a “serious mental illness” as a condition that leaves sufferers unable to look after themselves. They may attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts due to the condition. Acts of self-harm are an indicator of SMI. They may resort to drug abuse.

Although some people who are ruled incompetent in Arizona may suffer from these behaviors, being SMI does not necessarily mean you are unable to understand what’s going on in the courtroom.

Competency proceedings are complicated and difficult for family members. If your family member has been arrested and is suffering from a mental health condition, please call our Phoenix defense attorney as soon as possible at (602) 340-1999.

 

 

 

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Why Defendants Pleading Insanity Must Disclose Examination Results in Arizona

15March
2019

Defendants who plead insanity in Arizona face numerous obstacles. Some of the issues they face infringe on the Fifth Amendment rights of the accused. A recent court ruling found defendants pleading insanity must disclose examination results in Arizona.

The ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court in 2017 found defendants who voluntarily seek mental health examinations after filing an insanity defense must provide the results of the examination to the prosecution in their case.

The ruling raised concerns that the defendants’ rights against self-incrimination could be violated.

Examination results must be revealed in an  Arizona insanity ase

A defendant claiming insanity in Arizona must disclose examination results

Since the ruling, defendants in criminal cases have had to give prosecutors any statements relating to the charges made during the mental health examination.

The justices said forcing a defendant in a criminal case to provide results of a mental health examination would not be self-incriminating. They said the fact the insanity defense was used meant they would have waived their protection against self-incrimination.

The court ruled prosecutors can only use the evidence from examinations to refute insanity claims rather than to prove guilt in these cases.

Voluntary mental health examinations are distinct from those ordered by the court.

The 2017 case concerned Josh Rasmussen who was indicted for armed robbery and felony murder. His lawyer consulted with several mental health experts about a possible insanity defense. The defense listed insanity, or guilty except insane, as a defense in the case.

Rasmussen retained a psychologist to support his insanity defense. The state and Rasmussen agreed to an examination by a joint expert. Reports were prepared by both experts. A legal dispute ensured when the state requested copies of both reports compiled by experts. Rasmussen’s lawyers produced copies but redacted Rasmussen’s statements.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution says no defendant will be compelled to be a witness against himself. The amendment states:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we vigorously defend the rights of mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. We will answer your questions about mental health examination results in Arizona Call us for a consultation at (602) 340-1999.

 

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |