June 18, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: No New Competency Standard for Mentally Ill Defendants Who Waive Counsel

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in the consolidated cases of Wilson v. People and People v. Beaty on Monday, June 1, 2015.

Competency to Waive the Right to Counsel.

Relying on People v. Davis, 2015 CO 36 (released concurrently), the Supreme Court declined to adopt a new competency standard, pursuant to Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), for mentally ill defendants who wish to waive the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgments of the court of appeals in both Wilson and Beaty, because the court of appeals declined to adopt an Edwards standard in both cases.

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

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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Period In Which Competency Evaluation Being Completed Excluded from Speedy Trial Timeline

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Naqi on Thursday, February 13, 2014.

Violation of Right to Speedy Trial—Competency Evaluation—Crime of Violence—Sentencing.

On January 10, 2011, while represented by the public defender, defendant pleaded not guilty to the charge of sexual assault on his stepdaughter while in a position of trust–pattern of abuse. In March 2011, defendant filed a pro semotion seeking to obtain a different attorney, which was denied. On June 1, 2011, the original defense counsel filed a motion to continue the case; defendant objected. The court gave defendant the option of proceeding pro se or waiving the speedy trial date and proceeding with either the original defense counsel or alternate defense counsel. Defendant chose to proceed pro se and was found competent to proceed after a court-ordered competency evaluation. A jury convicted him as charged.

On appeal, defendant contended that his right to a speedy trial was violated because the competency evaluation was unfounded and, therefore, the period during which his competency was being evaluated should not have been excluded from the six-month speedy trial period. A defendant must be brought to trial within six months of entering a not-guilty plea. However, any period during which a defendant is under examination with respect to his or her competency is excluded from the six-month period. Here, the record supports the conclusion that defendant might not have been competent to proceed to trial. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion in ordering a competency evaluation, and the period of time to complete the evaluation was properly excluded from the speedy trial period.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred by aggravating the applicable sentencing range in accordance with the crime of violence and extraordinary risk crime statutes. Defendant was subject to crime of violence sentencing because the offense of which he was convicted is a per se crime of violence. Therefore, the prosecution was not required to prove a crime of violence to aggravate the sentencing range in accordance with the crime of violence statute. Although the sentencing range should not have been aggravated as an extraordinary risk crime, the sentence fell within the corrected sentencing range. Therefore, the judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reversal Required in Insanity Plea Case Because Competency Evaluation Report Statutorily Deficient

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Presson on Thursday, August 15, 2013.

Murder—Competency Examination.

Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding her guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation and felony menacing. She also appealed her convictions for possession of a weapon by a previous offender, attempted second-degree assault, and attempted escape, entered pursuant to her guilty plea. The Court of Appeals reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

After fatally shooting the victim, defendant entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. After a sanity examination and an initial competency examination, the court ordered a second competency evaluation. Defendant refused to meet with the evaluator, Dr. Bradley. Dr. Bradley submitted a report to the court stating that although he had reviewed voluminous medical and other records, he lacked sufficient information to provide an opinion concerning defendant’s competency.

On appeal, defendant contended that reversal was required because Dr. Bradley’s competency evaluation report was statutorily deficient. Dr. Bradley’s report did not contain the statutorily required diagnosis, prognosis, and opinions. On receiving an incomplete second evaluation, a court is required to order (1) that the evaluator render an opinion based on the available information, if possible, despite the defendant’s noncooperation; or (2) that the defendant be returned to the appropriate facility for further observation so that a competency opinion can be rendered. In this case, Dr. Bradley stated that he had insufficient information from which to render an opinion, and the trial court declined to return defendant to the Colorado Mental Health Institute to complete the evaluation. This error was not harmless. Therefore, reversal was required. Thus, the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here.