May 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Petitioner Competent when he Waived Right to Counsel and Was Not Prejudiced when Counsel Withdrew without Requesting a Competency Hearing

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wilson on June 23, 2011.

Mental Competency—Right to Counsel—Waiver.

Defendant appealed the order denying his Crim.P. 35(c) motion. The order was affirmed.

Defendant was charged with first-degree murder. He initially was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial, but later was restored to competency. After being represented by counsel during most of his case, he waived his right to counsel and proceeded pro se. The jury returned guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and a crime of violence sentence enhancer.

On appeal, defendant contended that he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to present evidence that he was mentally incompetent to waive his right to counsel. In accordance with Crim.P. 35(c)(3)(VII), a court must deny any claim that could have been presented in an appeal previously brought. Here, on direct appeal, defendant could have, but did not, seek review of the trial court’s conclusion that he was competent to stand trial and to waive his right to counsel, and that he had knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel. Further, defendant was represented by counsel on his direct appeal, the record contained all of the relevant information regarding this issue, and defendant was represented by attorneys for most of his case. Therefore, the court properly denied this portion of defendant’s motion.

Defendant also contended that the post-conviction court failed to consider and apply Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), which recognizes a difference between mental competency to stand trial and mental competency to represent oneself at trial, and that he was not mentally competent to represent himself at trial under the Edwards standard. The Supreme Court in Edwards held that the Constitution merely permits a state to force representation on a defendant who falls within this “gray area.” Edwards did not hold that the Constitution requires such a result. The Constitution requires only that the standards of competency set forth in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960), be met. Therefore, defendant was not entitled to a hearing with this heightened standard.

Defendant further contended that his counsel were ineffective because they withdrew without first requesting a competency hearing for him. Even if counsel erred in failing to request a competency evaluation before they withdrew in 2003, defendant was not prejudiced, because the record reveals that he was competent when he waived his right to counsel. Accordingly, the post-conviction court properly denied this claim without a hearing; therefore, the failure of the court to address the ineffective assistance claim was harmless.

Defendant further contended that he was entitled to new counsel on appeal because he disagreed with the choice of issues raised by his attorney. Counsel’s tactical decision regarding which issues to assert on appeal was reasonable. Further, many of the issues defendant wished to raise were or could have been raised and resolved in his direct appeal; thus, they would have been successive in this proceeding. Accordingly, defendant had no well-founded belief that his attorney could not or would not completely represent him in this matter.

Regarding defendant’s request to represent himself, the Court of Appeals held that a criminal defendant has no constitutional right to self-representation when appealing an adverse decision in a collateral attack on his conviction. The order was affirmed and the motion was denied.

This summary is published here courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer. Other summaries for the Colorado Court of Appeals on June 23, 2011, can be found here.

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