America’s First Criminal Defense Forum on Forensic Mental Health & The Law created and sponsored by Reilly Pozner LLP in conjunction with the NACDL.

Denver, Colorado, September 2013

MENTAL HEALTH LAW

The United States Constitution guarantees a fair trial to everyone charged with a crime.[1]

This means that in Colorado no person can be tried, convicted or sentenced for an offense they were charged with if they are incompetent to proceed or if they do not understand the proceedings against them or unable to assist in their own defense. [2]

In Colorado, if a lawyer or the judge has a good faith basis that the defendant is not competent to proceed to hearing or trial because of a mental or developmental disability, that individual is referred to the Colorado Department of Human Services to be evaluated for competency by a psychologist or psychiatrist.[3] In Colorado, almost one thousand individuals are referred to the State Department of Human Services for competency evaluations.

This is not surprising as 1 in 5 individuals jailed in the seven counties of the Denver Metro Area have a serious mental illness. Approximately 16% of adults who live with serious mental illness are receiving services through the Colorado public mental health system – leaving the rest with no access to public mental health services.

The numbers of defendants with serious mental illness are ever more increasing, but it is often difficult to convince a court or prosecutor that our clients have a mental illness or developmental disability that contributed to the reason for the offense, they were wrongly mistaken for committing an offense because their disability made them appear “guilty”, or that they are not competent to stand trial.

The laws, procedures and strategies are complicated when working with a client who needs vigorous representation as to their mental illness or developmental disability. There are issues of competency, insanity, and impaired mental condition all of which are complex and take experienced maneuvering.

RP Partner, Iris Eytan, emphasizes her criminal practice on working with individuals with disabilities who are charged with crimes. Ms. Eytan has worked in this area of the law for 17 years as a licensed attorney, and 22 years total including her work at various psychiatric facilities. Ms. Eytan has successfully advocated on behalf of many individuals with disabilities charged with serious crimes ranging from attempted murder, sexual assault, and theft. She also spearheaded a Reilly Pozner legal team that won a landmark civil rights case against the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo and the Department of Human Services which failed to promptly evaluate and treat individuals incompetent to stand trial held in Colorado jails.

_________

[1] U.S.C.A. 6th Amendment

[1] C.R.S. 16-8.5-102

[1] C.R.S. 16-8.5-103