Holmes Lawyers Fail to Overturn Colorado Insanity Law

Judge upholds requirement that insanity pleas be followed by evaluation.

In this photo provided by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, James Holmes poses for a booking photo, Sept. 20, 2012.
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Defense attorneys for Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes were handed a legal defeat Friday when Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester declined to overturn Colorado law concerning insanity pleas.

Lawyers for Holmes, 25, had argued state requirements for insanity pleas are unconstitutional. Holmes is charged with murdering 12 people and injuring dozens more in the July 2012 shooting rampage at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."

The lawyers indicated last week that Holmes was willing to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, and in court filings asked the judge to review state law and clarify details about the legal consequence of an insanity plea, The Denver Post reported.

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Under existing law, if Holmes pleads not guilty by reason of insanity he would have to undergo a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. What he says during the evaluation can be shared with prosecutors. Should he then change his plea to not guilty, the lawyers worried, the additional evidence against him could be incriminating. They argued that Colorado law violates the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which protects against coerced self-incrimination.

"[I]t appears that evidence obtained by the state as a result of a compelling court-ordered examination may be unconstitutionally used by the prosecution to execute the person who is on trial for their life," Holmes's lawyers said in their memo, according to The Post.

Holmes, the attorneys wrote, "cannot intelligently decide how to proceed, until this Court rules upon certain legal issues related to the entry of such a plea and advises Mr. Holmes and counsel of the consequences of such a plea."

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In his ruling, Sylvester affirmed that what Holmes says during a psychiatric evaluation can be used against him, and according to The Post added, "Counsel's ability to ferret out the issues and inconsistencies in the Statutes dispels any concerns at this point in time regarding the competence and effectiveness of counsel's assistance of Defendant in this case."

Prosecutors have not indicated if they will seek the death penalty against Holmes. The Associated Press notes that they must declare their intention within 60 days of Holmes entering a plea.

Holmes is scheduled to enter a plea Tuesday during a court appearance. He is charged with committing 166 crimes, a tally that includes two murder charges for each of the 12 murdered moviegoers. The youngest victim of the theater shooting was six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, who died while watching the movie with her mother. Her mother survived.

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