Next week’s preliminary hearing in the case against the Boulder King Soopers mass-shooting suspect has been delayed to allow officials time to determine whether he’s mentally competent to stand trial.
The delay comes after Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty argued that Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa’s mental state is not a barrier to the hearing and raised concerns about the timing of the public defender bringing the issue before the court.
Boulder County District Court Judge Ingrid Bakke on Thursday ordered that Alissa’s hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning be vacated and converted to an advisement hearing. At that hearing, Bakke will order court officials to undertake an evaluation of Alissa’s mental competency.
Prosecutors had been scheduled to argue at Tuesday’s hearing that they have sufficient probable cause to proceed to trial against Alissa and that he should continue to be held without bail while the case against him is pending.
“Regarding the issue of bond, the Court finds it cannot make adequate findings without the personal participation of the Defendant…” Bakke wrote in her order.
The public defender’s office filed a sealed motion this week raising the issue of Alissa’s competency to stand trial.
Alissa, 22, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, 47 counts of attempted first-degree murder and other charges after being arrested inside the King Soopers store on Table Mesa Drive following the mass shooting on March 22.
Dougherty, in a written response to the defense’s competency motion, questioned the timing of the move. Families of the victims in the case have made travel arrangements around the Tuesday preliminary hearing date, he noted. The first hearing in the case was on March 25.
“The People assumed that defense counsel would make a good faith effort to assess Defendant and alert the Court and the People to any competency issues in a timely fashion,” Dougherty wrote. “Instead, defense counsel has waited months only to raise the issue of competency at the eleventh hour, just before the preliminary hearing in this case.”
In an email on Friday, Shannon Carbone, spokeswoman for the Boulder Country District Attorney’s Office, said Dougherty will address this delay at Tuesday’s advisement hearing.
“In our motion, we laid out the reasons and caselaw in support of going forward with the hearing,” Carbone wrote.
A message left at the Boulder County Public Defender’s Office on Friday was not returned. The office did respond to Dougherty’s arguments in a public filing, pushing back on the prosecutor’s 11th-hour characterization. Proper mental evaluations take time, Alissa’s public defenders argued.
“Rapport must be established over many hours, witnesses have to be interviewed, data gathered and all needs to be given to a mental health professional who then has to parse out all these issues and make a determination,” public defender Daniel King wrote. “It would be completely inappropriate and ineffective to rush or truncate this process.”
Defense counsel believes that Alissa “suffers from a mental disability” and is unable to rationally understand court proceedings.
Bakke, in her order, noted that Colorado statute does allow for some pre-trail matters to be handled without the direct participation of the defendant, including preliminary hearings. But case law indicates that the validity of preliminary hearings held when a defendant’s mental competency has been called into question only stood up to legal challenge when that defendant was later found to be competent.
“The Court seeks to avoid a situation in which it must take additional evidence subsequent to the preliminary hearing, or conduct a second preliminary hearing because the Defendant is found not competent to proceed following the initial preliminary hearing and is subsequently restored (to competency),” she wrote.
A review hearing will be scheduled within 30 days of Tuesday’s advisement. A rescheduled preliminary hearing is expected to follow roughly two weeks after that, per Bakke’s order.
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