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.
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.