Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

Boulder prosecutors and defense attorneys are expressing concern over the time being taken up by mental health evaluations in criminal cases, as they claim backlogs at the state hospital have resulted in longer case times and clients stuck in jail waiting for their examinations.

A spokeswoman for the state hospital said it does not have any systemic backlogs and that any delays are likely case-specific. Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, however, said delays are not new in cases requiring mental health evaluations.

"It's been going on for a while because of cutbacks at the state hospital," Garnett said. "It sometimes takes several months to have a defendant evaluated and that's a concern."

Defendants in criminal cases are taken to the state hospital to be evaluated if someone -- a judge, a prosecutor or a defense attorney -- questions the defendant's ability to competently stand trial or if the defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity.

But those evaluations can sometimes cause huge delays in cases. At a hearing earlier this month in Boulder district court for Larry Marquardt -- who is undergoing a mental health evaluation after being accused of stabbing his elderly mother -- his attorney Kristin Johnson expressed concern that Marquardt's evaluation had been delayed due to a backlog at the state hospital.

Marquardt was originally scheduled to conclude his evaluation in April, but he is now scheduled to have his evaluation done in September -- almost a year after he was initially arrested in November 2012.

"Timeliness of a prosecution in a case is important in every case for the prosecutors," Garnett said. "The longer a case takes, the harder it is to present a compelling and complete case."

Stabbing suspect Larry Marquardt
Stabbing suspect Larry Marquardt

Garnett cited the case of Patrick Ward, who is accused of hitting and killing a cyclist while driving drunk in Lyons. Ward is scheduled to undergo a competency hearing after his attorney requested one, and he may not se the inside of a courtroom again until October, half a year after the accident.

"A case like that we'd like to get to trial in a few months, ideally before the end of the year," Garnett said. "It's also really unfair to the person being examined, and the fairest thing to do is to get that done promptly and to get the treatment they need provided, instead of sitting in limbo waiting."

Liz McDonough, spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Human Services -- which operates the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo -- said there are no systematic backups at the hospital and delays could be case specific.

"At this particular moment we are not having that issue," McDonough said. "We have revamped our system so we don't have backlogs."

But Jeff Goetz, who is the administrative commander at the Boulder County Jail, said there is an inmate right now who has been at the jail over the weekend while the state hospital tries to find a bed for him. He said since each county is allotted a certain amount of beds, some counties could see delays in its cases even without the hospital itself being crowded.

"That occurs all the time, because this is a situation that's not getting better," Goetz said. "It's only getting worse."

Goetz said that in these delays, people awaiting evaluations are kept at the jail, which he said is not a good environment for many of the defendants who need mental health treatment.

"Some of these people don't need to come to jail. There is just no other place to take them," Goetz said.

Goetz said it also is a burden on the jail. Goetz said some of the defendants with mental health problems can be violent and a threat to themselves and others, while some also create hygiene issues.

"It creates all sorts of problems," Goetz said. "It's a big deal, and there are a lot of resources being thrown at it, a lot of people looking at it."

Garnett said he doesn't think more cases in Boulder have been sent to mental health evaluations recently. But he did add that many of those cases -- such as Ward, Marquardt and accused "potty peeper" Luke Chrisco -- have caught the public's attention.

"When they are cases that involve these evaluations, they tend to be high profile," Garnett said.

Matt Connell, a Boulder defense attorney who took over as the fourth attorney for Chrisco after he went back and forth between jail and the state hospital for almost two years, said he hasn't experienced a delay in any of his own cases in recent years. But he said he has seen crowding in the state's mental health system.

"They're overcrowded down at the state mental hospital," Connell said. Throughout the state there is a large number of people with mental health problems in the criminal justice system. Really, it's a societal problem in large part."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329 or byarsm@dailycamera.com.