Defense Strategies for the Mentally Ill

Mental Illness Defense in Phoenix

The effects of mental illness on a person or family can be very complicated.  The experience for each person or family is unique.  Just because two people may have the same diagnosis, does not mean that their lives will be impacted the same way as a result of their mental illness.  No two people are the same, and your unique life story matters and can make a significant difference in your criminal case.

There are certain decisions that must be made when preparing a defense strategy in a criminal case.  Some of those decisions, such as whether to go to trial, or whether the defendant will take the stand, are decisions that are made by the defendant.  But, some strategic decisions are left up to the lawyer, such as what evidence to enter, which witnesses to call, or what objections to make.   In the 1984 landmark case of Strickland v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized the importance of the requirement that a lawyer makes those decisions only when they are both reasonable and informed.  When a case involves issues of mental illness, it is vital that the person hires a lawyer with the skills, resources, and experience to recognize all the key elements to make informed decisions.

If a lawyer misses key issues that impact your case, it can be a long, expensive process to preserve your legal rights.

There was a case in California that started in the 1980’s and wasn’t resolved until 2002 when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its rulings in Jennings v. Woodford.  That case involved a tragic situation where a violent crime resulted in the death of the victim.  The defendant, in that case, had a long and complicated history of mental illness.  Even though the lawyer at the trial apparently had the records available, there was no investigation made into the extent of the illness, and the trial went forward on an alibi defense.  After the conviction was delivered, and a death sentence was given (but not carried out), it was a long appeals process before the defendant was finally able to find relief.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, vacated the convictions, and remanded for a new trial based on the lawyer’s failure to recognize or investigate the mental illness issues of the defendant, before making the trial strategy decisions.

Think how differently that situation would have been if the defendant had been working with a lawyer from the beginning, who would have recognized the mental illness issues, and had the experience to know how it would impact the case?

Bernardo Garcia is a seasoned attorney with both the knowledge and experience to ascertain how your mental illness may impact your legal rights in your criminal case.  He focuses his practice specifically on criminal defense matters involving mental illness and has over 25 years of experience practicing in the Arizona courts.  Here are some representative examples of cases:

(Every case is different, and your results may vary.)

Case: State of Arizona v. K.C.

Facts:  K.C. was charged with Robbery, a class 4 dangerous felony, and faced a prison sentence of 4 to 8 years.  K.C., previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, discontinued his medication prior to the offense and decompensated.  Government doctors believed K.C. to be sane at the time of the offense.  Our doctor disagreed.  The government required a prison term as a part of all pretrial plea agreement offers.

Result: After trial, and a hung jury, the trial court declared a mistrial.  The court, acting as finder of fact, then found K.C. guilty but insane (GEI).  Rather than being sentenced to prison, K.C. was sent to the Arizona State Hospital for mental health care and released upon becoming stable.

Case:   State of Arizona v. D.W.

Facts:  D.W. was charged with various property, violent, and sexual crimes.  Additionally, D.W. had twice before been sent to prison.  For his present crimes, D.W. faced more than 200 years in prison.  Our psychologist diagnosed D.W. as suffering from psychosis and delusions at the time of his offenses.  We argued that the prison system had failed to previously treat D.W.’s mental illness and that future incarceration in prison would be destructive to him.  We advocated treatment for D.W. rather than a return to prison.

Result: We obtained a plea agreement that ensured D.W. would receive treatment.  The trial court accepted our psychologist’s conclusion that D.W. was insane at the time he committed the violent and sexual crimes.  D.W. was placed at the Arizona State Hospital rather than returning to prison.

Case:   State of Arizona v. K.B.

Facts:  K.B. was charged with various property crimes, including Trafficking in Stolen Property, a class 2 felony, and Burglary, a class 4 felony.  K.B. had been imprisoned twice before for a total of more than 5 years and faced a prison range of 10.5 to 35 years on the current charges.  Prosecutors offered a plea agreement requiring him to serve a 9.25-year prison sentence.  We argued that K.B.’s mental health problems were previously undiagnosed.  Our psychologist diagnosed Severe Dependent Personality Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Result: A deviation from policy was obtained and K.B. received a 1.5-year jail term followed by probation.  As a condition of probation, K.B. participated in mental health care.