The Rights of Mentally Ill People in Arizona’s Justice System


Mentally ill people sometimes feel they have no rights in Arizona’s criminal justice system. This is not the case.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, you have rights. People with disabilities, including psychiatric disabilities, are afforded legal rights to protect them from discrimination, abuse, and neglect in the criminal justice system.

You do not lose your rights, even if you are ordered a course of treatment by the courts.

When a mental illness interferes with a defendant’s right to a fair trial, a Rule 11 hearing may be held. The US Supreme Court set out the test for competency to stand trial in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960).

what are the rights of mentally ill people

The rights of mentally ill people

To be found competent to stand trial, the defendant must be able to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and to have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him.

The defendant must be able to assist his lawyer in his defense and understand both the charges and potential consequences of a criminal trial.

People who are receiving mental health treatment have a right to participate in all phases of their treatment, including individual support planning meetings.

They have a right to refuse or consent to treatment unless an emergency court order has been made. People suffering from mental illness have a right to be spared unnecessary seclusion and restraint, or sexual and physical assault.

People with mental illness also have the right to appeal a court-ordered involuntary commitment and to request a judicial review of court-ordered treatment every 60 days.  They have the right to legal advice from an attorney.

If you or a relative is being held in a residential or an inpatient facility, you should not be denied the right to communicate or to send and receive mail and to receive visitors.

Mentally ill people have a right to have their medical and mental health information kept confidential by healthcare providers, with some exceptions. Records may be disclosed to people closely involved in your care; to people if you signed a valid release of information document; to lawyers working on your behalf, and following a court order.

Treatment and evaluation can be ordered by a court in Arizona when:

  • The individual is a danger to themselves
  • He or she is judged to be a danger to others
  • The individual is gravely disabled
  • He or she is persistently and acutely disabled.

In a criminal court or another proceeding in Arizona, you will not always be made aware of your rights if you are suffering from a mental illness. You should not rely on the authorities. Contact a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer who specializes in the rights of the mentally ill. Call us today at (602) 340-1999.

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Mental Health Courts Will Play a Key Role in Arizona Criminal Justice Reforms


Mental health courts are playing an increasingly important role in Arizona’s criminal justice system. However, the state’s prison population continues to rise making the case for the use of alternatives to incarceration.

More than 100 stakeholders in the state are pressing for alternatives, reported

From April to October 2018, Arizona Town Hall hosted 17 forums. Community members and employees of the local criminal justice system were invited to talk about the kinds of changes needed to reverse the rising prison population.  The report noted the number of people incarcerated in Arizona rose by 60 percent since 2000.

Understanding mental health courts in Arizona

Mental health courts in Arizona

That’s significantly above a national rise of 6 percent over the same period, according to reports compiled by the lobbying group

The report notes Arizona has the fourth-highest imprisonment rate in the nation and spends $1.1 billion on its prison system every year. It considers how Arizona can provide better services for mentally ill people who get into trouble with the law.

A final report considered the setting of goals for Arizona’s criminal justice system, the impacts mental illness and substance abuse, and the criminal charging process.

The report emphasized the need for a holistic approach to the issues facing Arizona’s criminal justice system.

The provision of better funding and access to addiction and mental health treatment were among the key demands in the report. It recommended adding a behavioral or mental health response option to 911 calls, better case management for people who returned to their communities after spending time in jail, and better transition and re-entry programs for defendants.

Arizona Justice System is Committed to Mental Health Courts

In a recent policy document, the Committee on Mental Health and the Justice System vowed to consider the following measures to develop mental health courts including:

  • Overseeing the creation of a model guide to help judges develop protocols to work with people with mental and behavioral healthcare needs and the criminal justice system.
  • Set up a summit to share the guide with judges, mental health professionals, court professionals, and justice system stakeholders across Arizona.
  • Review standards at Arizona mental health court standards to gauge how performance measures to include additional data and to examine data analytics. The committee will look at mental health courts in other jurisdictions and evaluate how they work.
  • Review laws and rules and how they can be improved for defendants with mental illnesses.
  • Oversee the implementation of recommendations of the Fair Justice Task Force on mental health courts as approved by the Arizona Judicial Council.
  • Identify ways to educate the public on the process of mental health courts and how they help defendants with mental illnesses.

Mental health courts in Arizona play a key role in keeping people with psychological and mental issues out of jail. See our blog to find out if you may be eligible.

If you believe the criminal justice system is failing to help your loved one’s specific needs please call our Arizona criminal defense lawyers at (602) 340-1999.

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How Effective are Prison Diversion Programs for Mentally Ill Defendants in Arizona?


Many U.S. states have programs to divert people with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system. However, a large number of states are failing to provide prison diversion programs and other initiatives.

According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, access to alternatives to incarceration are limited for mentally ill defendants in Arizona. Just 21 percent of the population was found to be served by a mental health court.

Arizona fared better for crisis intervention teams. The study found 84 percent of the population had access to a CIT.

Prison diversion programs for mentally ill people

Prison diversion programs for mentally ill people are patchy

Police in the City of Memphis in Tennessee pioneered the crisis intervention team model in 1988. It involves a police department intensively training groups of officers on the nature of various forms of mental illness.

The Treatment Advocacy Center report stated:

“Having officers with knowledge of mental illness respond to sensitive incidents sharply reduces the risks of injury and death,”

The report’s authors awarded Arizona a B- rating. It was the 16th best state in the country for participation in jail diversion programs for mentally ill people.

Since the report was published, more mental health courts have been set up in Arizona.

A specialized court was set up in Pinal County in 2017 to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path to prison and keep them out of the criminal justice system. The court is a therapeutic, post-sentence facility for defendants placed on supervised probation.

The alternative paths for mentally ill defendants in Arizona can be beneficial. Few environments are worse for people with mental disorders than prisons. Although the programs can be demanding, they often have a more positive impact on defendants than incarceration.

In 2018, the Treatment Advocacy Center published An Analysis of U.S. Psychiatric Treatment Laws. It looked at legislation for involuntary treatment for psychiatric illness in each state. Arizona scored a B in the survey.

The study found seven states – Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee – still use an outdated standard requiring that harm to self or others needs to be imminent for a person to qualify for inpatient commitment.

If a mentally ill family member has been charged with a crime, you may be facing a traumatic ordeal. Our Phoenix criminal defense attorney specializes in representing people with mental illnesses. Please call us today at (602) 340-1999.

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Arizona is Accused of Dragging its Heels in Improving Mental Health Care for Inmates


The standard of mental health care for inmates in Arizona remains a matter of serious concern and an argument for alternatives. Recently, a judge accused the state over the standard of its mental health care for inmates.

In November, a judge examining a legal settlement related to the standard of health care in Arizona prisons warned an agreement the state reached four years ago faces being thrown out.

An Associated Press report noted U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued an order that the state was ill-advised in defending its noncompliance with mental healthcare standards for inmates.

mental health care for inmates in Arizona is under fire

Judge questions mental health care for inmates in Arizona

The judge raised the prospect of throwing out a four-year agreement and resuming litigation over the standard of inmate care in Arizona.

The judge made her comments following evidence the state has failed to make a range of improvements it was meant to implement after a 2014 lawsuit brought by prisoners.

Under the terms of the agreement, Arizona was supposed to ensure newly prescribed medications are provided to inmates within two days. Medical providers in prisons were  ordered to tell inmates about the results of diagnostic studies and pathology reports within five days of receiving the records.

The lawsuit claimed Arizona’s 10 state-run facilities failed to meet fundamental requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates. Some prisoners complained that serious diseases like cancer went undetected. The court heard allegations some prisoners were instructed to pray to be cured.

Five months before Judge Silver’s comments, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan found Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan in contempt of civil court. He fined Arizona $1.4 million for failing to make the bulk of the improvements to prisoner care promised when the class-action lawsuit was settled in 2014, reported AP. According to reports. Arizona paid the fine and was reimbursed by a private company that provides health care in state prisons.

Judge Silver said the court was not inclined to allow non-compliance with the provisions of the lawsuit.

As a criminal defense lawyer who represents the mentally ill, I believe everyone deserves a fair trial in the Arizona court system. In Arizona, both the criminal justice and the prison systems often fail those with mental illnesses.

The rights of all people who come before the criminal justice system must be protected. Our law firm considers the alternatives to incarceration for people who are at a disadvantage compared to others. Please contact us today for a free consultation if you or a family member has been charged with a crime.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.


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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

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