July 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Had Right to Be Present at Competency Hearing but Was Not Prejudiced by Absence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wingfield on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.

Attempted Escape—Competency Hearing—Due Process—Waiver—Choice-of-Evils Defense.

Wingfield shared a cell with two other inmates at the Arapahoe County Jail. The three men were caught by the guards digging a trench around the perimeter of the window in an attempt to escape. The guards found a crutch that had a flattened end, metal bars, a portion of a metal drain or grate, and a shank. Wingfield was convicted of possession of contraband. The court adjudicated him a habitual offender and sentenced him to eighteen years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Wingfield that the trial court improperly allowed his defense counsel to waive his right to presence at the competency hearing. However, Wingfield failed to show how his presence would have been useful to his defense. Therefore, the trial court did not violate his constitutional rights by holding the competency hearing in his absence.

Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion or violate Wingfield’s due process rights by denying his request for a second competency examination. First, Wingfield never made an offer of proof about what evidence could be presented to establish his incompetence. Second, the trial court had ample opportunity to observe Wingfield’s actions and general demeanor throughout trial to determine his compentency.

Wingfield also contended that the trial court erred when it denied his choice-of-evils defense. He argued that because his cellmates threatened to kill him if he did not assist in their escape attempt, he was justified in assisting them. The trial court found that, although Wingfield faced an imminent threat, he had viable alternatives to going along with the escape. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying the defense. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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