Could James Holmes Claim Insanity?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on July 23, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Details about James Holmes' violent attack on a Colorado theater have raised some questions about the shooter's mental state and whether he could conceivably raise an insanity defense should this case go to trial.

The shooting, which happened Friday night just after midnight, resulted in 71 people injured and at least 12 dead. It seems inconceivable that prosecutors will charge him with anything less than homicide so the only question is how Holmes will respond to the charges.

So far he isn't talking about the incident, reports Long Island Newsday.

What he told police when he was arrested and the details of the shooting may bring Holmes' sanity into question.

Holmes told police he was the Joker when they arrived on the scene, reports Long Island News Day. The Joker appears as the villain in The Dark Knight, a prequel to The Dark Knight Rises which opened Friday.

Holmes had also dyed his hair red, ABC News reports.

Following his arrest, Holmes warned police that his apartment was booby-trapped. Upon arrival, police noted that the apartment was full of chemical devices connected with trip wires. Police had still not entered the apartment as of Friday afternoon, reports MSNBC.

Of course, there is no way to tell what Holmes may or may not do once charged. But if he does invoke the insanity defense, the state will have the burden of proving that Holmes was not insane at the time of the shooting. While most states put the burden of proof on the defendant, Colorado does not.

The insanity defense means the defendant must have been unable to understand that what she did was wrong at the time she committed the crime. This test is often referred to as the M'Naghten rule in legal circles.

For defendants that successfully claim insanity as a defense, the court often still finds them liable for the harm caused. The defendant will then serve their sentence in a mental hospital or receive psychiatric services while incarcerated.

If the defendant is at some point deemed well enough to leave the mental hospital, they serve out the remainder of the sentence in prison.

Insanity is difficult to prove in court and it's unclear whether James Holmes will even raise it as a defense. Authorities are still unclear as to Holmes' motive in the shooting. His arraignment is scheduled for Monday.

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