What is the M’Naghten Rule – the Basis of Insanity Defenses?


The M’Naghten Rule is the basis of insanity defenses in the United Kingdom and the United States. It was established by the British House of Lords in the mid-19th Century.

The rule is a test of whether the person accused of a crime was sane when the act was committed and criminally responsible for what happened. The rule is named after Daniel M’Naghten, a man who tried to kill the British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. M’Naghten apparently believed that Peel wanted to kill him. He tried to assassinate the Prime Minister but instead shot his private secretary, Edward Drummond dead in 1843.

How the M'Naghten Rule developed in the 19th Century led to the insanity defense
The M’Naghten Rules forms the basis of the insanity defense

Medical experts were brought in for M’Naghten’s murder trial. They testified that he was psychotic. M’Naghten wad found not guilty by reason of insanity. The verdict caused an outcry from the public who had never heard of an insanity defense.

The House of Lords ordered the courts to draw up a strict definition of criminal insanity that could be used in future criminal trials. The result was the M’Naghten Rule. The justices ruled that insanity was a defense only when if the accused had a defect of reason at the time the crime was committed. The defendant should not have known about the nature of his or her actions and been too deranged to realize they were wrong.

The M’Naghten Rule was first applied by the courts in the United States in the 19th Century, just a few years after the British ruling. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law reported how in 1846, New York State tried William Freeman who was accused of killing several members of the Van Nest family near Auburn, New York. Freeman demonstrated psychotic behavior. He was obsessed with horse theft and false imprisonment. William Seward, his defense lawyer, wanted an insanity verdict and used the M’Naghten Rule argument. Although Freeman was clearly impaired, a jury found him competent to stand trial.

A jury found Freeman guilty of the killings and a judge sentenced him to death. Seward filed a Writ of Error. The New York State Supreme Court reversed Freeman’s conviction and death sentence. The court said the M’Naghten Rule would be the standard in New York.

The M’Naghten rule underpins Arizona’s guilty except insane (GEI) defense. It allows the defendant in a case to show evidence of a serious “mental disease or defect.” Specific conditions can qualify for GEI. The effects of withdrawal from drugs and alcohol, impulse control, or psychosexual disorders do not meet the definition of guilty except insane. This is a hard defense to prove. The defendant must suffer from a condition that’s so serious, he or she was unaware that the criminal act was wrong.

If you or a family member has a mental disorder and is facing charges, our law firm can help you. Attorney Bernardo Garcia has assisted clients in these cases for decades. Please call him at (602) 340-1999.

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

Can Dementia Trigger Incompetency to Stand Trial in Arizona?


The recent case of an Arizona man with Alzheimer’s who said he robbed a credit union because he could not afford to live on his social security check, raises questions of whether dementia can trigger incompetency to stand trial in Arizona.

A report in Tucson.com noted Robert Francis Krebs told FBI agents that he didn’t even put on a disguise during the robbery in 2018 because he wanted to get caught and to go back to prison.

Dementia and incompetency to stand trial in Arizona
Dementia can leave a defendant incompetent to stand trial

A court hearing in June considered whether Krebs, 82, was mentally fit to stand trial.

His attorneys told a judge Krebs reported having symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. A neuropsychologist concluded he was not competent to stand trial for robbery because he was suffering from dementia.

Two other mental health experts disagreed with the assessment. Tucson.com reported one of them said Krebs exaggerated his degenerative condition to avoid prosecution. The report noted a judge faces deciding if Krebs should be assessed to find out if his condition improves. If he cannot be restored to competency the robbery charge might be dismissed.

Krebs has previously served 30 years in prison for a bank robbery committed in Florida in the 1980s.

Prosecutors in the case argue Krebs is competent to stand trial. They urged a judge to find him competent, saying he told FBI agents he carried out the Tucson robbery because he was not able to live on $800 a month in Social Security benefits.

Competency to stand trial depends on whether a defendant is able to understand the proceedings being brought and give effective advice to his attorney. Conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia can trigger incompetency to stand trial in Arizona.

You can find out more about the competency rule, also known as Rule 11 on our website. As soon as a defendant has been charged with an offense in Arizona, any party to the case can file a motion with the court seeking a competency determination on the defendant. This includes the court itself.

The court will consider all evidence and seek expert input on the competency of the defendant. If you or a family member fails to grasp what is going on during a legal proceeding, you should not be convicted or sentenced to a crime. Please call Garcia Law PLC for more advice and help at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses, Rule 11 | Tagged |

What has to be Proved to Use Arizona’s Insanity Defense?


Arizona’s insanity defense is not used often and it can be difficult to sustain. The defense is also known as guilty except insane (GEI). The defendant must show clear and convincing evidence that he or she was suffering from a serious mental defect that meant the defendant could not acknowledge the wrongfulness of the crime.

A mental disease or defect constituting legal insanity is an affirmative defense. The defendant does not claim he or she did not commit the crime. Mental defects or diseases do not include disorders linked to acute voluntary intoxication or from withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.

Using the insanity defense in Arizona
What you need to prove to use Arizona’s insanity defense

A character deficiency, an impulse control disorder or a sexual disorder cannot constitute legal insanity. To use Arizona’s insanity defense you must show a condition is not temporary, or arising out of anger, jealousy, rage, or other impulsiveness.

People who are using the insanity defense must disclose the results of mental examinations, according to a recent ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court. Criminal defendants must hand over to prosecutors any statements related to the charges they may have made during the mental health examination. The court ruled that the “prosecutors can only use the statements to rebut insanity claims, rather than to prove guilt to protect defendants from this possibility of violating their Fifth Amendment rights.”

The court ruled that forcing a defendant to hand over results of their mental health examination would not violate their right not to self-incriminate. Mental health examinations are considered voluntary if they are not ordered by the court.

What Mental Diseases and Disorders can be Used in a GEI Case in Arizona?

A defendant who makes the plea that they are guilty except insane will be evaluated by a licensed professional with knowledge of state statutes and mental illnesses.

An expert who examines the defendant will submit a written report of the evaluation to the court, the defendant’s attorney, and the prosecutor. 

It’s not easy to establish a GEI defense. You should hire a criminal defense lawyer who has considerable experience in these cases, has used the defense before and knows what needs to be proved. Read about Bernard Garcia’s past cases on our website.  Please contact the Garcia Law Firm today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Autism and How Can It Affect Your Competency to Stand Trial


Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States. Some studies suggest diagnosis rates are rising by over 10 percent a year.

How autism can affect your trial

Autism spectrum disorders can be very severe. People with autism may struggle to understand basic concepts and to communicate. It can be difficult to gain employment with autism. These considerable obstacles to living a normal life means autistic people are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.

There’s plenty of evidence that the Arizona courts have not adapted to the increase in autism spectrum cases. 

Social and communication difficulties can have a bearing on a defendant’s competency to stand trial. Autism spectrum disorder covers a wide range of intellectual abilities but many people with autism struggle to comprehend and effectively communicate with court officials and their own attorney.

Rule 11 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure deals with the competency of a defendant to stand trial.

In order for a defendant to be found competent to stand trial, he or she must be able to consult with a lawyer with a rational degree of understanding and have a rational and factual understanding of the legal proceedings.

Although the courts deal with many instances of defendants on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as there is no uniform standard on how this relates to the ability of the defendant to understand court proceedings.

Studies suggest a limited number of medical professionals are able to judge the ability of someone with autism to be competent to stand trial.

Courts in Arizona and elsewhere do find people with autism incompetent to stand trial but these cases are rare.

These cases occasionally receive media coverage. In 2016 in Miami, Florida, Tony Rodriguez, an autistic man with an IQ of just 73 was released from jail after he was found incompetent to stand trial.

Rodriguez was accused of downloading child porn. A federal judge found the Miami man was “incompetent” to assist in his own defense, the Miami Herald reported.

Talk to a Phoenix Defense Lawyer if Your Family Member with Autism was Arrested

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney Bernardo Garcia has helped hundreds of people with mental illnesses and developmental disorders like autism. Often the criminal justice system can fail to recognize the unique needs of people with autism unless a criminal defense lawyer makes a case on their behalf. Please call the firm as soon as possible at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses |

People with Developmental Delays May Lose Out in the Criminal Justice System


Developmental delays or developmental disabilities can be caused by a range of conditions. The courts are a blunt instrument when it comes to dealing with people with these disorders. People with developmental delays may lose out in the criminal justice system.

Developmental delays are first diagnosed in childhood. A child may struggle to speak or understand what’s going on.

According to Healthline, developmental delays can be caused by conditions including intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and muscular dystrophy.

Developmental delays in the Arizona criminal justice system
Developmental delays can cause issues in the criminal justice system

Developmental delays can affect vision, language and speech, movement, social and emotional skills, and cognitive skills.

When a delay causes all of these disorders, the condition is called a global development delay.

Developmental delays can last into adulthood and mean people who suffer from them lose out in the justice system. Juries can be less sympathetic to people with developmental delays unless their conditions are properly highlighted by a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with the challenges a defendant faces.

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, 30 percent of all prisoners report having a cognitive disability. About 3 in 10 state and federal prisoners and 4 out of 10 local jail inmates report suffering from at least one disability.

The figure is considerably higher than among the general public where under 5 percent of people report a developmental difficulty.

The figure was reached by researchers asking inmates if a mental, physical, or emotional difficulty caused problems with concentration, remembering, or decision-making.

Research by the mental health non-profit The Arc found people who suffer from developmental or intellectual disabilities are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system both as victims and perpetrators. They are 4 to 10 times more likely to become victims of crime when compared to those without disabilities.

The report noted many people who suffer from developmental delays suffered childhood trauma. Research from the mid-80s to the 1990s indicated the types of offenses committed range from property crimes like theft and shoplifting to sexual assault and homicides. Studies show people who suffer sexual abuse as children have a higher chance of becoming abusers.

The Arc suggested people with developmental difficulties are more likely to be enlisted by criminals to take part in crimes. They often do not realize the gravity of what they are doing. People with developmental delays are more likely to admit to crimes they did not commit or be manipulated by law enforcement officers.

At the Garcia Law Firm PLC, we have represented people with developmental delays and other mental health issues for decades. Please call our experienced criminal defense lawyer today at (602) 340-1999.

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

Court ruled inmate could refuse insanity plea

An inmate had a right to refuse an insanity plea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

How Effective is Rule 11 in Arizona Criminal Cases?


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

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

How effective is Rule 11

Rule 11 involves a medical examination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Man Accused of Tucson Killing Had a History of Mental Illness


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

A report in 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 |