What is Competency to Stand Trial?

Competency to stand trial (CST), refers to the constitutional requirement that people facing criminal charges must be able to aid in their own defense. A criminal case cannot be adjudicated unless this requirement is met. The U.S. Supreme Court considers someone competent to stand trial if that person is rationally able to consult with an attorney and holds a clear understanding of the charges against him or her.  This standard was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dusky v. United States (1960). It describes the test for competency as whether a defendant has “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding—and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.” See Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960).

In Colorado and nationally the number of people being evaluated and receiving competency restoration services has grown dramatically, straining the system, and causing people to wait for available services for weeks or months in some cases. By statute, the Colorado Department of Human Services – Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health is responsible for providing court-ordered competency evaluations and restoration services for criminal defendants ordered to its custody by the courts.

C.R.S. § 16-8.5-101: Defines “competent to proceed” as meaning that the defendant does not have a mental disability or developmental disability that prevents the defendant from having sufficient present ability to consult with the defendant’s lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding to assist in the defense or prevents the defendant from having a rational and factual understanding of the criminal proceedings.

Competency Dockets

In an attempt to address wait times, streamline processes, and increase communication amongst stakeholders various courts across Colorado have created competency dockets.  As of May 16, 2023, there were six judicial districts operating competency dockets (2nd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 16th, and 18th) serving over 200 clients and there were four judicial districts in various stages of implementation.

While judicial districts serve their local communities, often their competency stakeholders (evaluators, court liaisons, forensic navigators, state hospital staff, DA diversion, and personal representatives) serve multiple judicial districts, county jails, and sometimes serve the entire state. According to Leading Reform, “an advantage of consolidation or centralization of dockets is that the ancillary resources implicated in competency cases are just that — ancillary, and only some of them are dedicated only to these cases. Bringing them together at a consistent time and place with familiar faces and predictable processes is more efficient for them and for the court.” 

Competency Dockets are not problem-solving courts, in most cases they only provide a designated time and place for stakeholders to meet and attend court, however because competency dockets are not problem solving courts, they can be structured to meet the needs of the local jurisdictions. In some judicial districts the criminal courts are partnering with civil courts to divert individuals away from the criminal justice system, these individuals are typically unlikely to be restored, but need behavioral health services. Other courts work closely with pre-trial mental health diversion programs, in hopes of stabilizing individuals before a competency evaluation is ordered. Some competency dockets work closely with problem solving courts to transition individuals into behavioral health programs and supportive supervision upon a finding of competency to proceed. 

As these courts begin to take shape, the judicial districts and the Criminal Justice Programs Unit (CJPU) have recognized the need for additional training, resources, and data and evaluation support.


Forensic Navigator - Housed under the Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health – Forensic Support Team provides care coordination to competency involved individuals and multidisciplinary teams within each jail across the state of Colorado.

Jail Based Behavioral Health Services (JBBS) – Housed within the Behavioral Health Administration, this program administers funding to sheriff’s interested in providing jail behavioral health services.

Restoration Educator - Housed within the Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health – Forensic Support Team provide pre-restoration education to incarcerated individuals residing in jails who offer Jail-Based Behavioral Health Services through Competency Enhancement Programs. These services will be offered while the individual awaits admission to inpatient competency restoration. Receiving these services does not change an individual's placement on the admission waitlist.

Bridges Court Liaisons - The Colorado Bridges Program was originally established in the Office of the State Court Administrator (SCAO) in 2018. The program's purpose was to identify and dedicate local behavioral health professionals as court liaisons (CLs) in each state judicial district to facilitate communication and collaboration among judicial, health care, and behavioral health systems.

In 2023, the Colorado legislature passed SB23-229, which transitioned the Bridges Program to an independent agency within the judicial department. The new agency, called the Colorado Bridges Program, Inc., is governed by a commission and is responsible for administering the program.

The transition to an independent agency was intended to provide the Bridges Program with more autonomy and flexibility to carry out its mission. The new agency is also expected to have a stronger voice in advocating for the needs of people with behavioral health challenges in the criminal justice system.

The specific duties of the CLs include: 

  • Identifying and connecting people with behavioral health needs to appropriate services
  • Providing information and education to judges, court staff, and other stakeholders about behavioral health
  • Facilitating communication and collaboration among judicial, health care, and behavioral health systems
  • Developing and implementing programs to improve the outcomes of people with behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system
  • The CLs are also required to report on their activities to the board of directors of the Colorado Bridges Program, Inc.

The transition of the Bridges Program to an independent agency is a significant step forward in the effort to improve the outcomes of people with behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system. The new agency is well-positioned to advocate for the needs of these individuals and to ensure that they have access to the services they need.

For more information on Bridges, please contact jennifer.turner@judicial.state.co.us.


Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health

Behavioral Health Court Liaison Program

National Center for State Courts

Judges Guide to Mental Health Diversion