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Competency question remains for Colorado DUI fatality defendant

A Colorado defendant must have the ability to participate in his or her own defense against charges for committing a crime. A court may not try a person who lacks a "rational or factual understanding" of legal proceedings, according to Colorado Statute 16:8.5: 101-102. A case may be suspended for an evaluation of a defendant's developmental or mental health issues.

The competency of a Colorado defendant is at issue in a drunk-driving case. The 73-year-old accused man was charged with DUI and vehicular homicide last May, after causing a fatal bicycle accident in Lyons. The driver's criminal defense lawyer sought a competency review, the results of which were revealed at a January hearing.

At the time, Colorado Mental Health Institute doctors stated the defendant was incompetent for trial. The man's attorney asked a judge to reevaluate the case in 90 days. It was believed the added time and medical treatment would improve the defendant's competency level.

Police reports said the defendant's Chevy Tahoe veered out of a turning lane into oncoming traffic and collided with a bicycle ridden by a 46-year-old man, who died at the scene. The Tahoe driver admitted he drank two beers before driving. The results of a blood alcohol content test indicated the driver was intoxicated; police also found liquor and a cup of beer in the vehicle.

During a recent, second hearing on the defendant's competency, lawyers on both sides of the case asked for another evaluation delay. The defendant was not in court. The judge agreed to the attorneys' request and reset the hearing date for July.

Incompetency is not necessarily a permanent state. A defendant who is found to be incompetent in the present may be judged to be competent in the future, so a criminal case can continue. However, as long as incompetency persists, the case may not proceed without violating the defendant's constitutional rights.

Source: Daily Camera, "Competency review rescheduled for Patrick Ward in Lyons DUI crash that killed cyclist" Mitchell Byars, Apr. 24, 2014

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