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People v. Rodriguez.

2022 COA 98. No. 19CA1354. Mental Competency—Multiple Competency Motions—Right to Counsel—Substitute Counsel.

September 1, 2022

Defendant was charged with sexual assault on a child (pattern of abuse), two counts of sexual assault on a child (position of trust), and aggravated incest. Defense counsel filed three motions to determine defendant’s competency. The district court ordered competency evaluations after the first two motions. None of the evaluators concluded that defendant was not competent to proceed, and the district court entered final determinations that defendant was competent to proceed after each motion. As to the third motion, the district concluded that defense counsel had not presented information materially different than that in the first two motions. It nonetheless granted defendant an additional year to conduct more testing, after which defense counsel advised the court that there was not a good-faith basis to challenge defendant’s competency. The court again concluded that defendant was competent to proceed. Defense counsel requested a hearing pursuant to People v. Bergerud, 223 P.3d 686 (Colo. 2010). The hearing was held before a different judge and addressed an alleged conflict between defendant and his counsel that defense counsel asserted entitled defendant to new counsel. The court denied defense counsel’s request for appointment of substitute counsel. A jury convicted defendant as charged.

On appeal, defendant argued that the district court reversibly erred by denying his third motion and not granting him another continuance to allow for a further competency evaluation. After a court makes a final competency determination, it is not required to order an additional competency evaluation if a new competency motion raises the same issues as the previous motion. Here, counsel’s assertions in the third competency motion were not materially different from those in the first and second motions. While defendant is clearly a low-functioning individual, the record does not show that the court abused its discretion by relying on the medical and psychological specialists who found that defendant’s functioning level was not below the level of competency. Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defense counsel’s third motion and not suspending the court proceedings until a new competency evaluation could be conducted.

Defendant also argued that the district court violated his right to counsel by denying his request for appointment of substitute counsel based on an alleged communication breakdown with his counsel. Here, defendant’s communication difficulties were attributable to his low intelligence and high level of anxiety. While the record shows that defendant and defense counsel had communication difficulties, the court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that these difficulties did not constitute an irretrievable communications breakdown because any lawyer would have experienced the same challenges in communicating with defendant. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to appoint substitute counsel for defendant.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

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

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