James Holmes case: Judge rules Colo. insanity plea constitutional

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The judge in the Aurora movie massacre case has rejected a defense argument that Colorado laws on insanity pleas are unconstitutional, clearing the way for the long-awaited arraignment of James E. Holmes next week.

Holmes, 25, was arrested without resistance minutes after he allegedly opened fire July 20 inside a packed theater during the showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Twelve people were killed and 70 were wounded in a crime that horrified the nation and is now invoked by both sides in the ongoing gun control debate.

Holmes has been held in isolation without bond and has not yet entered a plea. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday.


In anticipation of the arraignment, Holmes’ attorneys filed a series of motions challenging the state’s insanity plea laws and processes. His attorneys argued that the laws were vague and put Holmes in a Catch-22 position should he enter such a plea.

Once an insanity plea is entered, Holmes would be immediately examined by state psychiatric experts. The defense argued that if he cooperated with doctors, all of his past mental health records would be available and he would lose prior doctor patient privilege. If he did not cooperate, the defense contended that it could be held against him and defense witnesses testifying to his mental state would not allowed.

Chief District Judge William Sylvester of Colorado’s 18th Judicial District ruled that the state’s insanity plea process did not violate Holmes’ constitutional right against self-incrimination, right to remain silent, or interfere with his right to due process.

The judge did agree to provide the defense with a written advisement of the consequences of a defendant pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

The motions gave the clearest indication to date on how the defense planned to proceed. Previously defense attorneys have said Holmes is mentally ill, which has led to speculation an insanity defense would be launched and witnesses would testify to his mental state.

The prosecution fired back a few days later, arguing that Colorado’s laws on insanity defense had already been upheld and were clear. Sylvester sided with the prosecution ruling that the laws had been tested previously and found to be constitutional.


It is not yet known if prosecutors will seek the death penalty. Colorado rarely imposes the death penalty. The district attorney has about 60 days to decide once a plea is entered.

Although a court gag order has been imposed on the case, the judge has agreed to allow cameras, but no audio, in the courtroom during the arraignment.


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