Changes to the Colorado Competency Statutes

Recently, due to the federal lawsuit going on in Colorado surrounding competency wait times, our legislature passed a major overhaul to the competency system, as well as a plan for the creation of a behavioral health safety net program.  To all practitioners- PLEASE READ THESE BILLS!  The bottom line is that all the deadlines are shorter, the time that a person can be held for restoration is cut in half, and sometimes reduced even more, depending on the level of the offense, and restoration treatment is going to be triaged for least restrictive means/ out of custody treatment.  This is a huge step forward for our state, and took the work of many dedicated individuals, over many areas of the mental health and justice systems.  It is not perfect- but if it gets implemented, it will dramatically improve many lives in our state.

For so many years, defense attorneys have avoided raising competency because of the horrific wait times, long-term custodial status, and lack of case dismissals- much to the detriment of many vulnerable people.  We have done this to help our clients- but we have hurt them, and we have allowed the system to vastly underestimate the behavioral health needs in Colorado.  I was in a mountain county the other day, talking with a lovely attorney who seemed to genuinely care about his clients; he told me he didn’t even think you could raise competency on a misdemeanor.  I was shocked- and saddened.  No one should be prosecuted for an offense if they can’t understand what is going on, or they can’t help themselves and their attorney in defending their freedom against the great power of the state.  To me, competency is the escape valve from the criminalization of mental illness in our country.  Please- raise the issue, educate the bench on the new bill, and use it to help get people OUT of the criminal system, and into the brave new world of the behavioral health safety net of the future.  Good luck friends- go do the work of justice!

For information about SB 19-222, click here: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb19-222

For information about SB 19-223, click here: http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb19-223

Jennifer Longtin