Hendricks v. People, No. 98SC256.

Decision Date11 September 2000
Docket NumberNo. 98SC256.
Citation10 P.3d 1231
PartiesGwen E. HENDRICKS, Petitioner, v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Jane Hazen, Denver, Colorado, Attorney for Petitioner.

Ken Salazar, Attorney General, Barbara McDonnell, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Alan J. Gilbert, Solicitor General, Catherine P. Adkisson, Assistant Attorney General, Appellate Division Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondent.

Chief Justice MULLARKEY delivered the Opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to review the opinion of the court of appeals in a first-degree murder case, People v. Hendricks, 972 P.2d 1041 (Colo.App.1998). Prior to trial, pursuant to sections 16-8-103(2), 6 C.R.S. (1999), and 16-8-103.5(2), 6 C.R.S. (1999), defense counsel moved the trial court to impose a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and the affirmative defense of impaired mental condition (collectively, mental status defenses) over the objection of the defendant, petitioner Gwen E. Hendricks (Hendricks). The trial court refused to impose the mental status defenses, the defendant was convicted, and the court of appeals affirmed. Hendricks now argues that the trial court and court of appeals conducted an erroneous legal analysis to evaluate defense counsel's motion under sections 16-8-103(2) and 16-8-103.5(2). She further contends that the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's rejection of her Crim. P. 35(c) motion seeking post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel.

We hold that the court of appeals utilized an erroneous legal standard to evaluate the imposition of the mental status defenses pursuant to sections 16-8-103(2) and 16-8-103.5(2). The judgment of the court of appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Hendricks's husband, Air Force Sergeant James Hendricks (Jim), was fatally shot during the weekend of August 17, 1991.1 Over that weekend, Hendricks contacted law enforcement authorities several times regarding Jim's absence, in some instances strongly suggesting that the officers search the area where Jim's truck containing his body was ultimately found. The ensuing investigation led to substantial circumstantial evidence indicating that Hendricks had killed her husband, as well as statements by Hendricks that suggested her role in his death.

The investigation also revealed evidence casting serious doubt on Hendricks's sanity at the time of Jim's death. A journal kept by Hendricks before the crime occurred detailed what she called "premonitions" of her husband's death, described voices she heard, and stated the basis for her belief that God had directed her to kill Jim and use the proceeds from his life insurance to establish the "James Hendricks Foundation" to help child victims of mafia-produced pornography.2

On August 29, 1991, Douglas County Sheriff Department investigators transported Hendricks to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and subsequently arrested her on the following day.


At the arraignment, pursuant to sections 16-8-103(2) and 16-8-103.5(2), and over the objection of the defendant, Hendricks's public defenders provided notice of their intent to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and to assert the defense of impaired mental condition. The trial court ordered the Colorado Mental Health Institute (CMHI) to prepare a psychiatric evaluation to aid in determining whether the court should enter the defenses over the objection of Hendricks. The court ordered that the CMHI evaluation address whether the defendant "suffers a mental disease or defect," and if so, whether such disease renders the defendant incompetent to proceed and whether a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is necessary for a "just determination of the charge against the defendant understanding that defendant, herself, refuses to permit the entry of such plea."

Both the CMHI psychiatrist and a psychiatrist for the defense submitted psychiatric reports to the court. These reports, however, differed greatly in their scope of analysis. The CMHI report focused exclusively on Hendricks's competence to proceed at trial — an issue requiring an analysis of the defendant's mental condition at the time of trial. Based on Hendricks's current mental state, the CMHI psychiatrist concluded that Hendricks was competent to proceed at trial. However, he expressly refused to address Hendricks's potential insanity or impaired mental condition — issues requiring an analysis of her mental state at the time of the offense — stating that he was not provided access to the necessary data.3

The psychiatrist hired by the defense evaluated Hendricks's state of mind at the time of the offense, utilizing evidence not considered in the CMHI report. The defense psychiatrist concluded:

For over the past year the defendant has demonstrated profound swings of mood from suicidal depression to religious ecstasy. There are accompanying powerful ideas of reference (being influenced by random external events) and frank delusional beliefs (as noted in her journal). She developed a very tight and pseudo-logical paranoid belief symptom that God wished her husband to be killed (sacrificed) so that insurance proceeds could provide a treatment facility for victims of mafia-produced child pornography. . . . I conclude that at the time of the alleged offense the defendant was so diseased in mind as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to the alleged act. She was profoundly and delusionally convinced that it was God's will. I further conclude that the defendant suffered an impaired mental condition which prevented her from forming a culpable mental state to perform the alleged offense.

Specifically, the defense psychiatrist, using evidence of both past and present mental state, concluded that the defendant "suffers from an AXIS I diagnosis of bipolar disorder, mixed, with mood congruent psychotic features."

At the continued arraignment held in April 1992, the trial court considered these reports and also engaged Hendricks in a conversation to determine the propriety of the People's motion to determine Hendricks's competency to proceed and defense counsel's request that the court impose the mental status defenses over Hendricks's objections. As with the CMHI report discussed above, the colloquy focused exclusively on Hendricks's present state of mind.

Based on its review of Hendricks's competency at the time of the hearing, the trial court refused to impose the defenses. The court concluded that Hendricks "is fully competent at this point in time," and therefore, "she has the right to enter the plea she chooses to enter in this matter."

The trial was delayed for approximately one year because, pursuant to section 16-8-111, 6 C.R.S. (1999), a judge not assigned to the trial declared Hendricks incompetent to proceed in September 1992 and committed her to the state hospital in Pueblo. That judge later found Hendricks restored to competency in a June 1993 hearing, and the proceedings resumed.

Hendricks's private attorney, who succeeded the public defenders,4 followed the wishes of the defendant and did not attempt to assert a mental status defense at trial. Instead, defense counsel challenged the adequacy of the police investigation, claiming that the body found in the truck was misidentified and was not Jim's body. This defense was contrary to the overwhelming weight of evidence, however, including matching fingerprints, witness identification, and the presence of Jim's articles of clothing and items of identification near the body at the murder scene. The jury ultimately convicted Hendricks of first degree murder, see § 18-3-102, 6 C.R.S. (1999), and the court sentenced Hendricks to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

On appeal, Hendricks challenged the trial court's refusal to impose the mental status defenses. In affirming the trial court's decision, the court of appeals employed an analytical framework utilized by common law jurisdictions addressing whether a court should sua sponte enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. See Hendricks, 972 P.2d at 1043-45. Under the common law approach, a court may not enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity over the objection of the defendant if that defendant "voluntarily and intelligently" waives assertion of the defense. See Frendak v. United States, 408 A.2d 364, 378-79 (D.C.1979).

Relying on these common law cases from other jurisdictions, the court of appeals held that a defendant has the absolute right to waive assertion of the mental status defenses if that waiver is done voluntarily and intelligently. See Hendricks, 972 P.2d at 1044. Using this framework, the appellate court concluded that the trial court did not err in refusing to enter the not guilty by reason of insanity plea or to assert the impaired mental condition defense over the objections of the defendant. See id. at 1045.

We granted certiorari to consider whether the court of appeals appropriately interpreted sections 16-8-103(2) and 16-8-103.5(2) and whether the private attorney's representation of Hendricks constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.5 We now hold that the trial court and court of appeals failed to apply the correct legal analysis to defense counsel's attempt to impose the mental status defenses pursuant to sections 16-8-103(2) and 16-8-103.5(2). Therefore, we remand the case with directions for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Because the trial court, on remand, may order a new trial rendering any claim of ineffective assistance of counsel moot, we do not reach that issue at this time.


At issue in this case is the correctness of the interpretation of sections 16-8-103(2) and 16-8-103.5(2) by the trial court and court of appeals.6 The interpretation of these statutes presents a question of law subject...

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