How Effective is Rule 11 in Arizona?

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Rule 11 can be used in the state of Arizona if it is suspected that a defendant is mentally incompetent. However, there is some debate today if Rule 11 is truly effective in this state.

Why is that? According to the ACLU (American Council of Civil Liberties), more than half of the population in Arizona prisons are actually suffering from mental disorders. That has led some to believe that Rule 11 doesn’t really apply or isn’t at all effect in this state.

What is a Rule 11 Hearing?

Simply put, a Rule 11 hearing in Arizona is a proceeding where a doctor will determine if a defendant is truly mentally incompetent to stand trial. To identify such a mental deficiency, the doctor will have to determine 2 things:

  1. The defendant is really unable to understand the court proceedings that are being undertaken against him.
  2. The defendant lacks the mental capacity to assist his own attorney with his defense in the proceedings.

The doctors who participate in the hearing will ask some probing and searching questions. They will ask the defendant to state what he understands is the role of the judge in the hearing. They will also ask if the defendant knows what the duties of the jury are. Other questions include a test of understanding for the role of both the defense and prosecuting attorneys.

Here are a few sample questions:

  • Do you understand what a jury trial is?
  • What is your level of understanding of the current court proceedings?
  • Do you understand what a plea agreement is?
  • Are you aware of the charges made against you?

What Can a Defendant Do?

If you are the defendant in this case or if your loved one is, and it is suspected that Rule 11 applies in this situation, then you should talk to your defense attorney. The defense attorney will gather evidence of mental deficiency or determine if the required criteria are present. After that, a motion will be filed in court so that the defendant can be evaluated.

The court will then send the defendant to two different doctors. The doctors will evaluate the defendant according to the procedure that was described above. After that, they will each render their own opinion. Their opinions will then be sent to court.

Agreement/Disagreement between Doctors’ Opinion

If the doctors agree that the defendant is competent to attend trial, then the defendant goes back to court. If their competency opinions are split, then the defendant will need to go to another doctor. The third doctor’s opinion will determine if the defendant goes back to court or not. If the doctors agree that the defendant is not competent then he or she could be sent a mental health institution for care.

There is also the possibility that the doctors will believe the defendant is not competent ‘at the time of the trial’. However, in this case, they may determine that the defendant can be treated or educated and then restored to full competency. If that is the case, the defendant will be sent for treatment via therapy, education, or potentially through medication.

This could last for up to 6 months, after which the defendant will be sent back to court and the judge will inquire how the restoration process is going. After successful restoration the defendant will have to answer for the charges.

Dusky v. United States

The US Supreme Court set out the scope of Rule 11 in this case. Dusky was a schizophrenic who was charged of kidnapping and rape. He was afterwards convicted, but the Supreme Court sent him back for retrial.

The justices determined that a short mental status exam is not enough to determine competency. It is only fair that a full evaluation should be made. It should also be noted that people with mental illnesses can still be aware of the court proceedings and be able to consult with their attorneys in their defense.

Note that Rule 11 can be used in the following proceedings:

  • Entering a plea
  • Standing trial
  • Assisting a lawyer in one’s defense

Remember that having a mental illness is not a way for anyone to “play” the system. You can’t use it as an excuse so that you won’t have to answer for charges in court. However, if a defendant is truly mentally incompetent then Rule 11 may apply in the State of Arizona.

If you believe that Rule 11 applies to you or a loved one, then you need competent legal advice from a lawyer with decades of experience in Arizona law. The law offices of Robert A. Dodell, Attorney at Law is experienced in handling many different criminal cases.