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People in the Interest of Joergensen.

2022 COA 126. No. 22CA0291. Competency to Proceed—Involuntary Administration of Medication—Sell Test—Procedure After Determination of Competency or Incompetency.

October 27, 2022

In 2018, Joergensen was charged with 208 counts of arson. Since then, he has been found incompetent to stand trial numerous times. In 2020, the district court committed Joergensen to the custody of the Colorado Department of Human Services for competency restoration services. He was eventually transferred to the Colorado Mental Health Institute, where he refused to voluntarily take medication that his treatment team prescribed to restore him to competency. In 2021, the People requested an order under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), authorizing the medical professionals treating Joergensen to administer Abilify and Depakote to him. The mental health court granted the motion, and Joergensen began to voluntarily take Abilify to avoid being forcibly medicated.

A few weeks later, Joergensen’s lawyers in the pending criminal case moved for reconsideration of the motion. The mental health court granted the motion, concluding that the People proved three out of the four Sell factors to authorize an involuntary medication order and that the requested medication would render Joergensen competent. But the court also found that if Joergensen regained competency, he would stop taking the medication and thus become incompetent before he could be tried on the criminal charges. Based on these findings, the court concluded that the People had failed to prove the second Sell factor, which it interpreted as requiring proof that administration of Abilify would render Joergensen competent and that he would maintain his competency until he was brought to trial, and it denied the request for an involuntary medication order.

On appeal, the People argued that the mental health court misinterpreted the second Sell factor and erroneously concluded that Joergensen’s potential decompensation if he stops taking Abilify in the future prohibits the present entry of an order authorizing the involuntary administration of Abilify. The second Sell factor requires the People to demonstrate that administration of the requested medication is substantially likely to render a defendant competent to stand trial; it does not expressly require the People to prove that the defendant is substantially likely to remain competent to stand trial until some future date. Here, the mental health court required the People to demonstrate that, if prescribed the medication, Joergensen would not only be rendered competent to stand trial but would also continue to remain competent until the trial occurs. Accordingly, the mental health court erred.

Relatedly, the Court of Appeals determined that the competency statutes permit courts, when necessary, to order defendants to continue receiving appropriate medication to ensure that they are restored to competency and to continue involuntary medication until the completion of trial. Here, the mental health court failed to consider that a court may (1) order a defendant to receive involuntary medication once restored to competency or (2) enter alternative orders to ensure a defendant’s competency is maintained.

The mental health court’s order was reversed and the case was remanded, with instructions, for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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