In this legal DIY section, we’re going to learn about competency evaluations and restoration, the Bridges program, and helping the elderly navigate the system. In some cases, defendants may have severe mental health issues, a verifiable diagnoses, or even significant mental defects or diseases that are undiagnosed but which interfere with their day-to-day functioning. In those cases, it may be necessary to schedule a competency exam of the client before proceeding with any substantive resolution of the case. What that means is the state mental health hospital has to designate an expert to come and meet with the client, as well as review any pertinent records that are provided to the evaluator.
Basically, the question that is determined during competency is whether the individual involved in the case can fully comprehend right versus wrong. Other important factors they need to understand are what’s going on in court, to include being able to name who the prosecutor is and recognizing that person is not on their side. Similarly, knowing who the defense attorney is and recognizing that person is on my side. Other factors are who the judge is and what they do, and who the jury are and what they do. Those are the kinds of questions that we’re asking. In addition to that, they are also evaluating whether the individual can assist in their own defense. Some of that requires recollecting what happened previously in the offense and being able to relay that information to the defense attorney. A competency evaluation may make a determination of competent, not able, and leave it at that.
There is also a difference between incompetent and not able to be restored, and incompetent and able to be restored. In which case mental health treatment and modalities involving fixing the individual’s mental health condition with medications or therapies will be recommended. In some cases, multiple competency evaluations will be required before the court determines what the outcome of the competency will be. In other words, the prosecution can request the competency exam—called “comping” someone—the court can comp the accused, or the defense attorney can comp the client. In either event, a second expert is always available if one side or the other does not appreciate the outcome of the initial exam. Competency evaluations can be done either in custody or out of custody. The state mental health hospital is in Pueblo, Colorado.
Restoration, likewise, can be done in custody or out of custody. And the major factor for determining whether someone stays in custody or not is the risk to public safety. This is not the same as a regular mental health examination that you do through probation or parole, although mental health is a component of it. And certainly, a mental health diagnosis factors into a competency evaluation, whether someone is competent or not, does not depend on their overall mental health status. Ultimately what harms most individuals who are going through this situation is that the criminal justice system is not built for those with mental health diseases or disorders. We have a lack of resources in this country in general, in terms of mental health treatment, but the criminal justice system is even worse. Often what we end up doing is providing not only a social worker to our clients that are going through this situation, but making recommendations, such as find therapists or providers who are covered by insurance.
We also are proud to offer a partnership with the Families Of The Accused project to help support families who are going through the criminal justice system. In addition to all of this, you also have the bridges program in Colorado. The bridges program is made to facilitate communication between providers, the court, and the jails. One of the major problems we see is when our clients are used to receiving services in jail and then are on the outside. Sometimes they’re not even given their own medications and they’re left without any means of transportation or way to achieve a refill.
The bridges program liaison basically just reports to the court regarding someone’s mental health treatment and does not necessarily have any role in determining competency. It’s another resource available in our communities as a whole and is a relatively new program. They have confidentiality and will not provide information to the defense team or to the prosecution without court order.
Unfortunately, what happens with many elderly folks is they have slow onset dementia, or even Alzheimers. Forgetfulness plagues all of us, but some of us more so at certain ages. Here at Colorado Lawyer Team, we’re aware and able to deal with aging, loved ones who have been wrongly accused or otherwise contacted for criminal means. One of my very first cases as a criminal defense attorney was helping my father-in-law with a traffic ticket that he didn’t even remember getting because he had early onset Alzheimer’s. If they can’t remember how to, who they’re dealing with the case, a lot of times minor cases can be dismissed outright in any event. The longest that someone can be held under court supervision, pending restoration is the length of time that is the maximum on the sentence for misdemeanors in Colorado, that means, if they’re not restored to competency within two years, the DA must dismiss the case.