The Importance of Rule 11 in Arizona


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.

A Rule 11 hearing in Arizona

The process during a Rule 11 hearing

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:

  1. What is your level of understanding of the proceedings?
  2. What is the role of a jury in a criminal case?
  3. Are you aware of the nature of a plea bargain?
  4. 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.

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Understanding Arizona’s Rule 11


In the state of Arizona, mentally ill defendants have a right under Rule 11 to be examined for mental fitness concerning trial. If the defendant is suspected to be mentally incompetent, meaning unable to understand trial proceedings and assist in their defense, they will undergo a Rule 11 hearing. There must be substantial evidence of this mental incompetence before the defendant is granted a Rule 11 hearing. In this hearing, doctors will determine the mental competency of the defendant.

This process usually consists of two doctors performing the evaluation. Questions are asked in this evaluation such as:

  • What is the role of the jury?
  • What is the role of the judge?
  • Do you know what a plea bargain is?
  • Do you understand the charges placed against you?

court trialThe doctors then come to an agreement on whether or not the defendant is competent enough to understand trial and assist in their defense. If the doctors do not agree, a third doctor will be brought in to assist in the determination. In some cases, the doctors can rule the defendant incompetent at the time of the hearing, but they believe the defendant will be able to understand the trial through either medication or education. In those instances, the defendant will undergo the process for around 6 months.

After the doctor evaluation, the defendant will be brought back to court to determine whether they will be sent to a facility or if the case will be dismissed. Determining whether the defendant is sent to a facility is based on four criteria: is the defendant a harm to themselves or society, persistently and/or acutely disabled, or if they are severely disabled.

Fair trial is a constitutional right and Rule 11’s aim is to uphold that right. If you or someone you love is mentally ill and being charged, give us a call today. As experienced, caring attorneys, we specialize in mentally ill defense and have the tools to make sure you receive a fair trial.

Posted in Arizona, Arizona Laws, Mental Health Defenses, Rule 11 | Tagged , , , , |