During a trial in Arizona, a defense attorney may ask for a Rule 11 evaluation of his or her client. Under Rule 11, the defendant has the right to a full mental examination and hearing when reasonable grounds exist for it.
A Rule 11 hearing may be held when a defendant is suspected of being mentally incompetent. This hearing is granted when there is substantial evidence of mental incompetence. Doctors will determine the mental competency of the defendant at the hearing.
A hearing under Rule 11 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure may be held when reasonable grounds exist to suggest the defendant is not able to understand the nature of a criminal proceeding against him and to assist in his or her defense.
The rule is meant to establish whether the defendant has sufficient mental ability to understand what is going on. Criminal trials are adversarial by their nature. It’s a format the criminal justice system has followed for centuries. However, this format is a difficult one for people who can’t comprehend the proceedings.
What Happens in a Rule 11 Hearing?
Typically, the process involves two doctors who examine the accused to assess his or her level of comprehension. Typical questions may be:
- What is your level of understanding of the proceedings?
- What is the role of a jury in a criminal case?
- Are you aware of the nature of a plea bargain?
- Are you fully aware of the charges against you?
The definition of incompetency under Arizona law is identical with that adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court for the federal courts.
A defendant cannot be tried by a court, convicted of a crime, sentenced or punished for a public offense as a result of a mental defect, illness, or disability, when the defendant is unable to understand the proceedings against him or her or to provide assistance in his or her own defense. A mental illness, defect or disability is defined as a neurological or psychiatric disorder demonstrated by evidence of behavior or emotions caused by an injury or disease and developmental disabilities as set out in A.R.S. § 36-551.
The presence of a mental defect, illness, or disability alone is insufficient grounds for finding a defendant incompetent to stand trial. The deliberations hinge on the narrow question of whether the defendant is aware of the proceedings and is able to advise his attorney.
If both doctors agree a defendant is competent, he or she typically will return to the court and have to face the charges. If the doctors are split, the defendant will usually have to see a third doctor.
When two doctors believe the defendant is not competent to stand trial under Rule 11, the state must determine whether or not it wants to dismiss the charges. A defendant may be sent to a mental health hospital and detained if he is deemed a threat to himself or the community. A defendant not deemed to be a threat may be released.
In some cases, the doctors may decide the defendant is not competent at the time of the trial but could become competent at a later date through treatment or medication.
Under the restoration process, the doctors typically follow a six-month plan. At the end of that time, if they have determined that you are restored, you will go back to the court to answer the charges.
Bernardo Garcia is a veteran Arizona criminal law attorney who offers free consultations in Maricopa County. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime, contact us today for a free consultation.