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People v. In re R.K.L.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

May 19, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
In the Interest of R.K.L., a/k/a A.J.J., Respondent-Appellant.

         City and County of Denver Probate Court No. 15MH1333 Honorable Ruben M. Hernandez, Magistrate

          D. Scott Martinez, County Attorney, Patrick C. McKinstry, Assistant County Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellee

          The Law Firm of John L. Rice, John L. Rice, Pueblo, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant

          OPINION

          BERGER JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Respondent, R.K.L., a/k/a A.J.J. (A.J.J.), appeals the probate court's orders upholding his certification and extended certification for short-term mental health treatment at Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan (CMHI-FL) and authorizing the involuntary administration of medication.

         ¶ 2 A.J.J. contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the court's orders. We agree with A.J.J. that the evidence does not support the court's orders authorizing involuntary administration of ten of the eleven requested antipsychotic medications, and we thus reverse the parts of the orders authorizing their involuntary administration.[1] In all other respects, we reject A.J.J.'s arguments and affirm.

         I. Relevant Facts and Procedural Background

         ¶ 3 On December 15, 2015, petitioner, the People, filed a notice in Denver Probate Court of certification of A.J.J. for short-term mental health treatment. A letter from a CMHI-FL psychiatrist submitted with the notice alleged that A.J.J. had been transferred from Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP) to CMHI-FL on December 10, 2015, and it was his third hospitalization at CMHI-FL. The letter alleged that A.J.J. had been at CMHIP since October 20, 2014, after being found incompetent to proceed on a third degree assault charge. According to the letter, A.J.J. was initially receiving treatment on a voluntary basis, but on December 15, 2015, he was placed on a seventy-two-hour hold after refusing to take medication.

         ¶ 4 The notice alleged that A.J.J. had been detained for a seventy-two-hour evaluation and found to be mentally ill, and as a result of his mental illness, he was a danger to others and gravely disabled. Consequently, he was certified to CMHI-FL for short-term treatment for a period not to exceed three months.

         ¶ 5 On December 17, the People filed a motion to grant involuntary medication administration authority to A.J.J.'s treating psychiatrists at CMHI-FL, alleging that A.J.J. was not competent to effectively participate in treatment decisions. Involuntary medication administration authority was requested for eleven antipsychotic, five mood-stabilizer, two anxiolytic, and six side-effect medications.

         ¶ 6 On January 6, 2016, the probate court held a hearing on the short-term treatment certification and the motion for involuntary medication administration authority. Dr. Matt Salbenblatt, who the parties stipulated was an expert in psychiatry, testified that he had worked with A.J.J. at CMHI-FL since he was admitted. Dr. Salbenblatt testified that A.J.J. had schizophrenia with possible bipolar disorder. He testified that A.J.J. had grandiose delusions, thought disorganization, lack of impulse control, an inability to assess reality, and poor judgment. Dr. Salbenblatt then described the medications requested, and he opined that A.J.J. met the criteria for short-term treatment certification and involuntary medication administration.

         ¶ 7 A.J.J. also testified at the January 6 hearing. He identified himself as "[A.J.J.], Jr., Chief, Native Indian Prince, " and said he did not go by the name R.K.L. or know where that name came from. He testified that he had worked at the House of Representatives, was an attorney, worked under a judge in Minnesota "as Native Indian Prince, " and had written two books for the Internal Revenue Service and the joint budget economic committee. A.J.J. testified that he did not think he suffered from a mental illness and did not want to stay at CMHI-FL but was not sure where he would live if he left. He also testified that "as a rule for [his] body, [he did] not want to take the drugs[.]" Much of his testimony was convoluted, difficult or impossible to logically follow, and not responsive to the questions asked.

         ¶ 8 At the conclusion of the hearing, the probate court upheld the certification for short-term treatment and granted the motion for involuntary administration authority for the requested medications (January 6 Order).

         ¶ 9 Before the expiration of the January 6 Order on March 15, 2016, the People filed with the probate court a notice extending the certification of A.J.J. for short-term treatment for an additional three months, to expire no later than June 15, 2016. The People also filed an amended motion seeking a three-month extension of the involuntary medication administration authority order.

         ¶ 10 On February 10, 2016, the probate court held a hearing on the extended short-term treatment certification and amended motion for involuntary medication administration authority. Dr. Marla Christine Barnes, who the parties stipulated was an expert in psychiatry, testified that she had been supervising A.J.J.'s care since the beginning of January 2016. She provided similar testimony as that of Dr. Salbenblatt regarding A.J.J.'s diagnosis and symptoms and the requested medications, except that she testified that she no longer sought authority to administer the mood-stabilizer medications. She also opined that A.J.J. met the criteria for extended short-term treatment certification and involuntary medication administration.

         ¶ 11 At the conclusion of the February 10 hearing, the probate court upheld the extended certification for short-term treatment and granted the amended motion for involuntary administration authority for the requested medications (February 10 Order).

         ¶ 12 A.J.J. now appeals both the January 6 Order and the February 10 Order.[2]

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶ 13 We must determine whether the evidence, when viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to the People, is sufficient to support the probate court's order. Fifth Third Bank v. Jones, 168 P.3d 1, 2 (Colo.App. 2007). We review de novo the probate court's conclusions of law and defer to the court's findings of fact if sufficient evidence in the record supports them. See People in Interest of Strodtman, 293 P.3d 123, 131 (Colo.App. 2011). III. Certification for Short-Term Treatment

         ¶ 14 Under the statutory scheme governing mental health care and treatment, a person who, because of an alleged mental illness, is alleged to be a danger to others or to himself or herself or to be gravely disabled may be detained for seventy-two hours for treatment and evaluation. § 27-65-106, C.R.S. 2015. After the evaluation, the person may be certified for short-term treatment. § 27-65-106(7). The notice of certification must be filed with the court. § 27-65-107(2), C.R.S. 2015.

         ¶ 15 Certification for short-term treatment (three months or less) is permitted only if "[t]he professional staff of the agency or facility providing seventy-two-hour treatment and evaluation has analyzed the person's condition and has found the person has a mental illness and, as a result of the mental illness, is a danger to others or to himself or herself or is gravely disabled, " and "[t]he person has been advised of the availability of, but has not accepted, voluntary treatment." § 27-65-107(1)(a), (b). Thus, short-term treatment certification is legally unavailable unless it is shown that (1) a person is mentally ill; (2) as a result of such illness, the person is either (a) a danger to others, or (b) a danger to himself or herself, or (c) gravely disabled; and (3) the person has not accepted voluntary treatment. See id.; see also People v. Taylor, 618 P.2d 1127, 1136 (Colo. 1980).[3]

         ¶ 16 "If the professional person in charge of the evaluation and treatment [of someone certified for short-term treatment] believes that a period longer than three months is necessary for treatment of [that person], he or she shall file with the court an extended certification." § 27-65-108, C.R.S. 2015. Extended certification for short-term treatment may be for an additional period of three months or less. See id.

         ¶ 17 A person subject to certification or extended certification for short-term treatment may request that the court hold a hearing to review the certification or extended certification. §§ 27-65-107(6), -108. The court may "enter or confirm" the certification or extended certification, § 27-65-107(6), only if the court finds that the person or facility seeking certification proves by clear and convincing evidence "that the person has a mental illness and, as a result of the ...


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