Is There a Link Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence?


America has experienced a series of mass shootings in recent years. After almost every tragedy, commentators and politicians talk about the potential link between mental illness and gun violence.

It’s certainly the case that some people implicated in mass shootings suffered from mental illness.  James Holmes, the shooter who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, sought psychiatric help before the shooting. Court-appointed psychiatrists testified he was mentally ill. However, his attempt to use the insanity defense proved unsuccessful and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. The psychiatrists told the court he was mentally ill but not insane.

mental illness and gun crime

is there is a link between mental illness and gun crime

Although some mass killers suffered from psychological problems, the link between mental illness and gun violence is far from automatic.

An article in The Trace points out it’s misguided to pin the blame for violence on mental health problems.

Yu Lu, a postdoctoral research fellow in behavioral health and research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told the publication numerous news reports link mental illness and gun violence. She said:

“If you look at data, if you look at actual research, there’s minimal evidence supporting this claim.”

Lu’s study Preventive Medicine considered the connection between mental health issues and gun-related behaviors.

She concluded most mental health issues — including depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, and issues like borderline personality disorder, bear little association with gun violence.

The correlation between shootings and access to guns was more obvious. People with access to guns were 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a firearm than those who didn’t have access to a firearm.

Lu and a co-researcher considered data from 663 young adults recruited from seven Texas high schools. The team caught up with them every year for eight years from 2010.

Other research supports Lu’s conclusions. A database that looked at the characteristics of mass shooters found a “tenuous connection” between mental illness and gun violence. Under 15 percent of mass shooters were psychotic.

The Treatment Advocacy Center stated about 23 percent of mass shooters demonstrated mental health problems.

The American Mental Health Counselors Association also addressed potential links between mental illness and gun crime. It concluded:

“Most people who suffer serious mental illnesses are never violent. Certain people with serious mental illness do face an elevated risk of violence during “certain high-risk periods.”

These can include an initial episode of psychosis and inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.

The association said people who suffer serious mental illness are rarely aggressive. Just 3 to 5 percent of all violence, including gun violence, is linked to mental illness.

The reality is people with serious mental illness are far more likely to become victims of violence than to carry it out. This includes in jails and prisons where other inmates target them.

The violent crime victimization rate is 12 times higher among people with serious mental illness than among the overall U.S. population.

As an attorney who helps people with mental illnesses after they are charged with crimes, I frequently have to address the misconception that mental illness and gun violence are automatically linked. Please call me at (602) 340-1999 about mental health defenses if you or a family member has been charged with a crime.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

Celebrating Our Client’s Success


One of the most satisfying experiences a defense attorney can have is seeing a client receive the care he needs and put his case behind him without spending time in prison. Today I celebrate the success of D.B., a client of mine who has recently successfully completed probation.

D.B. came to me with several charges including one class 3 felony. He had 3 prior felony convictions and an untreated, severe mental illness. He had been suffering a mental health crisis at the time, which caused him to commit the offense for which he was charged. D.B. was clearly in need of care, but his criminal history was working against him.

A person convicted of a felony who has two or more prior felony convictions will be sentenced under category three of A.R.S. § 13-703(J)—Arizona’s sentencing scheme for repeat offenders. A class 3 felony under category 3 carries a range of 7.5 to 25 years in prison, with a presumptive term of 11.25 years. It looked like J.B. was going to prison for a long time for things that happened while he was suffering a psychotic episode brought on by his untreated mental illness.

I have seen many cases like D.B.’s, and it is always a challenge to make the prosecution understand the difficulties that are unique to defendants with mental illness. I am glad to report that after some hard work, D.B. was extended a plea that allowed him to serve 3 years on probation rather than going to prison. As a term of his probation, D.B. was required to submit mental health evaluations and treatment. If he had gone to prison, his mental health would likely have worsened, and he would not be the contributing member of society he is today.

I am proud to stand with D.B. today as he completes his probation. Probation with mental health terms has not only kept D.B. out of prison, it has changed his life for the better. His mental health has improved by leaps and bounds and he never set foot in prison for this case. Although it takes a lawyer who is familiar with mental health cases to create such opportunities for people like D.B., it takes incredible effort from the defendant to turn things around and succeed like he did.

It has been my pleasure to help many others like D.B. obtain fair and positive legal results helping prosecutors and judges understand the unique challenges they face. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges related to mental illness, please contact me today.

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

Guilty Except Insane Plea


On January 29, 2017, an ambulance containing four people was pulling in to the Phoenix Baptist Hospital in Phoenix when L.S. pulled up alongside the ambulance and fired a handgun into the patient compartment and drove away. Luckily, no one was injured.

About 2 hours later police were called to a Circle K in Phoenix where L.S. had fired a gun in to the air while others in the vicinity looked on. Although L.S. resisted and fought police, they were able to disarm and detain L.S. without and serious injury to L.S., police, or others.

L.S.’s actions were the product of a prolonged psychotic episode caused by a serious undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. He was experiencing hallucinations and did not understand the dangerousness of his actions. L.S. was charged with a total of 14 felonies and could have spent as much as 70 years or more in prison.

Today, with the help of Bernardo Garcia, L.S. entered a plea of Guilty Except Insane in the Maricopa County Superior court. Guilty Except Insane pleas are notoriously difficult to litigate in Arizona and only rarely see completion. Today, rather than 70 years or more in the Arizona Department of Corrections, L.S. will spend no time in prison and instead spend some time at the Arizona State Hospital. There he will receive the highest quality and most comprehensive care, eventually culminating in his full reintegration to society.

Today’s victory is the result of countless hours of hard work and Mr. Garcia’s unique expertise in the area of criminal defense for those with mental illness. Mr. Garcia has unparalleled experience with Guilty Except Insane pleas in the State of Arizona, with successful cases in four Arizona counties (Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma).

Mental illness is often misunderstood in the criminal justice system, and it takes a unique set of skills to provide the best representation for our society’s most vulnerable people. Bernardo Garcia has over 25 years of experience as an attorney and unmatched skill as counsel for defendants who suffer from mental illnesses.

Posted in Arizona, Arizona Laws, Mental Health |

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 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

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 |

Mental Health and Reoffending Issues Are Dealt with in Arizona County Jail Program


Many jails contain house numbers of inmates who suffer from mental illnesses. Jail administrators in Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office were surprised to learn more than half of inmates in detention had been diagnosed with mental health problems.

The revelation in 2015 sparked action by the sheriff’s office.

The Verde Valley’s reported on how jail authorities set up a program to tackle reoffending and issues such as mental health problems and substance abuse.

Four years ago, the authorities found of 492 inmates in county detention that year, 52 percent were diagnosed with a psychosis. They were receiving prescribed medication for their conditions.  A massive 70 percent struggled with substance abuse. Many inmates were jailed for minor crimes, often not involving violence.

Reoffending tackled in new jail program

Arizona jail program tackles reoffending

YCSO Chief Deputy David Rhodes, who oversees jail operations, was blunt in his assessment. He told

“It was a systemic failure and it still is. All over the state and all over the nation, mentally ill people spend longer times in jail than people without mental illness.”

They also find it more difficult to get out of jail.

He felt the jail was failing inmates and the community. Many of the defendants who entered the jail re-offended soon after they were released, returning to the county jail. Some even stepped up their offending.

A subtle change began that year. The county jail began screening people for potential mental health issues as soon as they entered the jail. They began a program to help inmates avoid re-offending after they leave. All too often people who are incarcerated are stranded with little support in the community. They end up homeless and habitually re-offend.

The anti-recidivism program was dubbed the Reach Out program. It has grown as it received grants from many sources, including the Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority Institute, the Federal Bureau of Justice Administration, and the state of Arizona. In March 2018, the jail started recording more accurate statistics on inmates to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Last July, it hired a social worker who was previously the Justice Liaison at Health Choice Integrated Care.

The program aims to support former inmates with mental illnesses when they return to the community.  The jail checks up on them with the service providers they partnered with after 30 days and then again after 90 days to see if they made progress. Other agencies get involved in the partnership.

Although the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office program is in its infancy, its supporters are optimistic. They believe it’s the first of its kind in the country.

It’s not unusual for jails and prisons in Arizona to contain a large number of people who suffer from mental illnesses. Facilities often fail to provide adequate help.

In places like Maricopa County, mentally ill inmates are often held in solitary confinement.

Attorney Bernardo Garcia focuses his practice on people with mental illnesses who are charged with crimes. Call him today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Arizona Laws, Mental Health | Tagged |

Is There a Relationship Between Mental Illness and Homicide?


Many studies that tackled the issue of the relationship between mental illness and homicide have detected mental disorders in many defendants charged with extreme cases of violence.

For example, a study of 71 people convicted of murder (excluding vehicular homicide) in Contra Costa County, California, found 49 of them suffered from serious mental disorders.

Experts study homicide and mental illness

Is there a link between mental illness and homicide?

The diagnoses included multiple infarct dementia, chronic paranoid schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorders, and psychosis linked to drugs like methamphetamine

The study found most people convicted of homicide were not legally incompetent or mentally ill by “common standards.”  However, a high percentage of murderers appeared to be mentally ill.

Other research suggests the California study may overestimate the link between mental illness and homicides.

More recent research carried out into people convicted of homicides in the United Kingdom, found 545 of the 1594 defendants suffered from a mental disorder, amounting to 34 percent. Of these, 149 received a diminished responsibility verdict in which a judge and jury acknowledged the role a mental disorder played in the crime.

Most of the killers who had a mental disorder had not been treated by psychiatric services. This is a theme we see over and over again. People with mental disorders are more likely to commit violent crimes if their condition goes untreated.

Unfortunately, many people with mental illnesses in Arizona do not receive proper treatment for their conditions.

A 2016 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center called Serious Mental Illness and Homicide found people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are responsible for about 10 percent of all homicides in the United States. For mass killings, the percentage rises to about 33 percent.

Steven P. Segal of the University of California at Berkeley analyzed homicide rates by states. The academic found state homicide rates rose in states with stricter involuntary treatment policies. It appears to be more difficult to treat those in need of help when they are forced into institutions.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we have worked with mentally ill defendants for years. We are well aware of their needs and factors that make violent crime more likely. We are adept at presenting a full picture to the courts in Arizona. Please contact us today if you loved one has been charged with a violent crime.

Posted in Mental Health, Violent Crime | Tagged |

Mental Health and Crimes Against Children in Arizona


Crimes against children often result in heavy sentences. As well as serving long sentences, people who commit them often end up on sex offenders’ registers after their release from prison. When a mentally ill family member is accused of crimes against children, the ordeal can be overwhelming.

Sexual crimes against children are understandably shocking to society. However, these are difficult cases because they may rely on the testimony of a young child with no other corroborating evidence.

When a defendant has mental health issues, the problems are compounded when he or she is faced with accusations of crimes against children in Arizona.

Mental health and crimes against children

Understanding mental health and crimes against children

Since the 1980s, studies suggested children are more prone to “false-memory reports” than adults. Some research has questioned this claim.

However, other studies pointed to an increase of false memories between early childhood and adulthood.

In 2013, a study by Mark L. Howe of City University London questioned the accuracy of child witnesses in court cases.

“Memory often serves as the key or only evidence in the courtroom,” Howe wrote in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. He claimed police officers, jurors, and judges “are naive when it comes to understanding how memories are formed, how they become distorted over time, and how stress and emotion affect remembering.”

He said few people have an accurate sense of memory until they reach the age of eight.

Although the metaphorical jury is out on the science, it’s clear that courtroom juries routinely hand out lengthy prison sentences to those convicted of crimes against children in Arizona.

These accusations carry a heavy stigma, even when defendants are acquitted of crimes. Those convicted of crimes against children can lose access and custody of their own children. These crimes place family relationships under intense strain. When the defendant also struggles with a mental health disorder, the turmoil can prove too much.

Many studies point to a link between child abuse and neglect, and mental illness. Others suggest people who were abused as children are more likely to be abusers. When people with mental health issues are charged with crimes against children, they face an uphill battle to fight these preconceptions.

Although allegations of crimes against children test family relationships, it’s important to support your family member as much as possible.

Attorney Bernardo Garcia will represent you or your loved ones whether the charges include crimes against children, aggravated assaultsex crimes, or any other alleged offenses against children Please contact the Garcia Law Firm at (602) 340-1999 for a free consultation in English or Spanish.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

What Sentences Do Mentally Ill People Charged With Robbery Face in Arizona?


Mentally ill people charged with robbery often face long prison sentences. It’s important to highlight your issues if you have been charged with this serious offense.

Robbery offenses are felonies in Arizona. The consequences of this charge are severe. Under state law, robbery is a class 4 felony. Class 4 felonies carry a presumptive term of two years and six months in prison and an aggravated term of three years and nine months.

A defendant commits a robbery if he or she threatens or uses forces against another while taking any property of another from him and against his will.

Mentally ill people charged with robbery

What happens to Mentally ill people charged with robbery?

Robberies can carry an even higher prison sentence. An aggravated robbery in which the defendant is accused of having an accomplice is charged as a class 3 felony.

When the accused is charged with armed robbery, which entails having a dangerous or a deadly weapon, or simulating a weapon during the robbery, he or she is charged with a Class 2 felony. Armed robbery is classified as a “dangerous offense” under Arizona law. Even a first armed robbery conviction carries a sentencing range of seven to 21 years prison, fines of $750 to $150,000 fines, and other costs.

Defendants with a previous conviction for a dangerous offense could spend almost three decades in a state prison for armed robbery.

People who suffer from mental illnesses are often charged with robberies. Last year, a man reported to be mentally unstable was arrested in Graham County, Arizona, after an alleged robbery at a convenience store with a knife. Media reports claimed he told police he believed the Mexican drug cartels were out to get him.

The Arizona justice system is a blunt instrument for people with mental illnesses. If you or a family member has been accused of robbery and have struggled with illness, it’s important to contact an Arizona-based criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Posted in Mental Health, Violent Crime | Tagged |

Which Crimes Are Dealt with in Mental Health Courts in Arizona?


Mental health courts in Arizona are expanding but not all defendants are eligible to use them. Defendants charged with the most serious crimes are typically not dealt with by mental health courts.

Mental health courts are a diversionary program intended to give offenders an alternative to prison. More jurisdictions on Arizona have set up mental health courts in recent years.

Mental health courts often help offenders charged with felonies. A report in the Arizona Sun about a court in Flagstaff noted there were 28 participants in the program representing 53 separate cases.

Which offenses are handled by the mental health courts in Arizona

The scope of mental health courts in Arizona

Most of those taking part were charged with felonies. Crimes dealt with by the courts included aggravated assault, trafficking in stolen property, disorderly conduct with a weapon, domestic violence, aggravated DUI, possession of marijuana or methamphetamine, and arson.

Pima County also has mental health courts. The county’s website states defendants determined to be seriously mentally ill (SMI) by the Regional Behavioral Health Authority are eligible.

However, defendants charged with murder, sexual assault, child molestation, and some domestic violence crimes cannot enter the diversion program.

In Pima County, defendants must have charges that are eligible for probation to apply for the mental health court. Defendants are transferred to the court and sentenced by a presiding mental health court judge.

The court sets conditions for the defendant and provides a team of support professionals to help and monitor his or her progress.

The court holds regular compliance hearings to monitor the defendant’s progress.

In 2018, Pima County’s Attorney’s Office launched a misdemeanor problem-solving court. The new service provides mental health and substance use treatment, along with a range of other services, for high-risk or high-need defendants, many of them with mental illnesses.

The service was launched with nearly $3 million in federal grant money awarded to the Pima County Attorney’s Office, reported

Mental health courts play an important role in diverting offenders with certain mental disorders away from the prison system. If you or a family member believe you may be eligible, please contact our criminal defense team today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health |

How Often are Defendants Found Guilty Except Insane in Arizona?


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 |