On July 20, 2012 the entire Nation was struck with terror when news stations on almost every channel reported the mass shooting that occurred in a Colorado movie theater during the midnight screening of the movie The Dark Knight Rises. James Eagan Holmes walked into the movie theater dressed in combat clothing and shot at the crowd of people in the movie theater with multiple guns after setting off grenades of tear gas. This shooting rampage resulted in 12 fatalities and injuries to 70 people. Holmes was arrested outside of the movie theater and later charged with 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder. Holmes pled not guilty by the reason of insanity. Holmes’ lawyers concede that he was the gunman but claim that he suffered from chronic mental illness and that at the time of the shooting he was amidst the “throes of a psychotic episode.” During negotiations with the prosecution, Holmes’ attorneys agreed to change the plea to guilty if the prosecution agreed not to pursue the death penalty. However, the prosecution declined the offer and Holmes’ not guilty plea by the reason of insanity currently stands. Originally the trial date was set for this past February but was placed on hold due to Holmes’ attorneys’ decision to file an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court regarding the prosecution’s request for a second psychiatric evaluation.
Holmes’ Defense Team Appeals Judge’s Order for Second Psychiatric Evaluation
Once Holmes invoked the insanity defense, he was required to undergo a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. After the evaluation was complete, the prosecution argued it was “incomplete and inadequate” and requested the Court to order a second psychiatric evaluation. In February, the District Court granted the prosecution’s request for the second psychiatric evaluation and ruled that it should focus on Holmes’ mental state at the time of the killings. However Holmes’ attorneys appealed the judge’s ruling and argue that the judge made an error by forcing their client to submit to further testing after he has already undergone one psychiatric evaluation. The defense attorneys further claim that the ordering of the second examination exceeds the judge’s authority under Colorado’s statute on insanity defenses.
Language of Colorado’s Insanity Defense Statute
Colorado’s insanity defense statute states that when the insanity defense is raised, “the court shall order one examination of the defendant.” However, this language applies to offenses committed before July 1, 1995. The statute’s wording slightly changes for offenses committed after July 1, 1995. It states that when the defense of insanity is raised, “the court shall order an examination of the defendant.” When comparing the wording of the two variations of the statute, it comes down to the difference in meaning between the world “one” and “an.” Nonetheless, it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the District Judge had the proper authority to grant another psychiatric examination given the language of the statute and the specific facts of the case. In the meantime, the judge agreed to put a hold on the second psychiatric evaluation while Colorado’s Supreme Court makes its determination. The new trial date is scheduled for October.