Competency to waive counsel (Colorado)

Colorado’s state-developed process for assessing competency meets constitutional requirements and does not require adoption of process set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Indiana v. Edwards

People v. Davis, 2015 CO 36 (Colo. 2015). (This opinion has not been released for publication in the permanent law reports and until it is released, it is subject to revision or withdrawal.)

Rashaim Davis was convicted in a Colorado state court of possession and distribution of a controlled substance and various related charges. Prior to trial, Davis informed the court that he wanted to represent himself. During a pretrial colloquy, Davis told the trial court that he was taking an antidepressant, Wellbutrin, for “bipolarism” and “mental condition as far as…not trusting people,” but that the Wellbutrin did not completely control the paranoia that had led to his mistrust of his court-appointed lawyers. The trial court found that Davis was unable to voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waive his right to counsel. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order denying Davis’s request to proceed pro se, proscribing a new standard for a criminal defendant’s competency to waive the right to trial counsel, relying on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008).

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding that Colorado’s “existing two-part, totality-of-the-circumstances analysis to determine whether a defendant has validly waived the right to counsel affords trial courts sufficient discretion to consider a defendant's mental illness.” The Colorado Supreme Court noted that state law already requires that a waiver of the right to counsel be both “voluntary” and “knowing and intelligent,” and that “mental illness might prevent him from broadly understanding the charges, punishments, defenses, and other essential facts of the case.” Thus, a trial court could “consider the defendant’s mental illness during its totality-ofthe-circumstances-analysis.” Additionally, the Colorado Supreme Court held that Colorado law does not require an Edwards standard because it already provides “what the Supreme Court sought in Edwards: an analytical scheme that appropriately considers whether mental illness should prevent the defendant from representing himself at trial.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2