Rule 11 Arizona Hearings
There are times when a criminal defense attorney asks for a Rule 11 evaluation of his client. Under Rule 11 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, a mental examination can be requested during a hearing when there is a reasonable basis to question the defendant’s mental competency.
This is to determine:
- Whether the defendant can understand the nature of the proceedings against him; or
- Whether the defendant is able to assist his attorney in his defense.
There is no question that there are a lot of people in Phoenix’s jail and prison systems that have serious mental illness. Many would argue that our prison system has become a de facto mental health facility. Although I think there is merit to this point, I will save my social commentary for another forum where my SEO manager doesn’t get so frustrated with my rambling muses.
Understanding the Nature of the Proceedings
In a very quick and limited examination process, the evaluator typically asks the defendant if they understand what a prosecutor does, what a judge does, and what the criminal defense attorney does. They are asked about what a plea bargain is, what a trial is, and what a jury does.
Let’s face it; almost everybody has watched Law and Order or some other television legal drama. These questions are so basic that anyone who has watched more than five minutes of television knows the answers to these very basic questions about the criminal justice system.
While I have a passion for the legal system, I have utter contempt for this process and refer to the evaluation’s ability to measure competence as the “Russet Potato Standard.” Why? – Because most Russet Potatoes could answer these questions. It’s a sad commentary on the system that even people who are clearly mentally ill and not understanding what’s happening around them are found to be competent and fit to stand trial.
Being Able to Assist Your Criminal Defense Lawyer
The second prong of the Rule 11 evaluation process is even more troubling as it is the evaluator and not the attorney who decides if a defendant can assist in his own defense. I’m sorry, how would someone else know based on extremely limited interaction with my client if they can assist in their own defense? It’s silly.
There are some defendants who are truly incompetent and others who have ulterior motives to be part of the Rule 11 court evaluation process. Some want to delay their cases, some just have bad attitudes, and some are hoping that they can fake it enough to get some antipsychotic meds to take the edge off of daily jail life.
Can Rule 11 Evaluations be Helpful If You are Ultimately Found Competent?
The short answer is “sometimes.” I have clients who have mental health issues that are not so debilitating that they are rendered incompetent. I remember one client from years ago who always wore red pants and danced on street corners as he rapped totally nonsensical lyrics. He even tried to legally change his name to J. Daddy Red Pants.
While J. Daddy was found competent, it was clear that he had substantial issues that we were able to use as mitigating circumstances in his defense. Ultimately, the prosecutor and court had sympathy for him once they saw a video of him (and heard his voice).
Going to the extra mile for J Daddy made all the difference in his case. He got the help he needed and no longer wears red pants. Sometimes criminal defense attorneys need to take an unconventional approach for unconventional clients.