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People in the Interest of Uwayezuk.

2023 COA 69. No. 22CA2278. Competency to Proceed—Involuntary Medication Administration—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Sufficiency of Pleadings.

July 13, 2023

Uwayezuk was charged in two criminal cases. He was placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services after his defense counsel raised the issue of his competency. While awaiting placement in a restoration facility, Uwayezuk’s mental health deteriorated. The state requested an emergency order under CRS § 16-8.5-112 authorizing the involuntary administration of Zyprexa, Risperdal, Haldol, Ativan, Benadryl, and Cogentin. The probate court appointed counsel for Uwayezuk who (1) sought dismissal of the action on grounds that the state failed to plead a plausible claim for relief under Warne v. Hall, 2016 CO 50; (2) asserted that the statutes authorizing involuntary medication administration were unconstitutionally void for vagueness; (3) requested a continuance, because appointed counsel only had two days to prepare for the hearing and had been unable to meet with Uwayezuk because the sheriff did not allow counsel into the jail; (4) alleged constructive ineffective assistance of counsel because the court denied counsel’s request for a continuance; and (5) argued that for the state to obtain such an order, the factors from Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), not the factors in People v. Medina, 705 P.2d 961, 971 (Colo. 1985), applied. The morning of the hearing, the Denver Sheriff’s Department had notified the probate court that Uwayezuk was unwilling to get out of bed, and the court construed his absence as refusing to appear. The court heard arguments on preliminary issues, denied the request for a continuance, and concluded that the statutes governing involuntary drug administration are constitutional. The court did not make specific findings that the petition was sufficiently pleaded under Warne, but such a finding was implied given that the court proceeded with the hearing. After hearing testimony from Dr. Albert, who had requested the medications, the probate court determined that the state had proved by clear and convincing evidence that the four Medina factors were satisfied and granted the state’s request for an order authorizing the involuntary administration of the medications. The probate court also concluded that it had “no doubt” that Uwayezuk had effective assistance of counsel, although the court did not make specific findings distinguishing Uwayezuk’s claim that he was denied effective counsel because two days was inadequate to prepare for the hearing from his claim that the government interfered with his counsel’s ability to meet with him.

On appeal, Uwayezuk contended that the court’s denial of his continuance request deprived him of effective assistance of counsel because his counsel (1) had only two days to prepare for the hearing and (2) was unable to confer with Uwayezuk due to state interference. As a result, Uwayezuk claimed that he was constructively denied his statutory right to counsel at a critical stage of the legal proceedings, that his counsel could not effectively subject the state’s case to testing in an adversarial manner, and he was entitled to a presumption of prejudice under United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 569 (1984). The court of appeals first determined that the right to effective assistance of counsel applies to proceedings conducted under CRS §§ 16-8.5-112 and 27-65-113(5)(c). However, despite the expedited nature of a proceeding under these statutes, the court’s denial of a continuance, and counsel’s inability to meet with Uwayezuk before the hearing do not establish presumptive prejudice such that even competent counsel would be unable to provide effective assistance because, first, although Uwayezuk was only given two days’ notice to prepare, evidence and witnesses were accessible to him; the state’s petition was signed by Uwayezuk’s treating physician; and the state provided notice to counsel that he had access to all of Uwayezuk’s medical records. Second, Uwayezuk did not allege any other information that counsel would have been able to obtain from him had they been able to meet before the hearing. Third, Uwayezuk did not provide any bona fide reason for opposing medication administration other than possible drug side effects. Accordingly, based on the record, Uwayezuk failed to prove that he was denied effective assistance of counsel.

Uwayezuk further contended that the state’s petition was insufficient under Warne’s pleading standards and, consequently, should have been dismissed. However, the denial of a motion to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5) is unreviewable after a trial on the merits. And while an expedited proceeding under CRS §§ 16-8.5-112 and 27-65-113 is not a full trial, here there was nothing further for the court to determine following the hearing, and Uwayezuk had a right to appeal the court’s order.

Uwayezuk also argued that there was not clear and convincing evidence to support the court’s order authorizing the involuntary medication administration. Uwayezuk conceded that the state proved the first three Medina factors by clear and convincing evidence. As to the fourth factor—whether the patient’s need for treatment by antipsychotic medication is sufficiently compelling to override the patient’s bona fide and legitimate interest in refusing treatment—there was clear and convincing evidence that Uwayezuk’s personal preference to refuse medication had to yield to the state’s legitimate interest to protect his health as well as to protect the staff and others in custody at the jail.

The order was affirmed.

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

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