Holmes' Insanity Plea Accepted by Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The court accepted James Holmes' plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on Tuesday, which will initiate the mental evaluation process and may rule out the death penalty for Holmes.

Holmes is charged with the murder of 12 theater patrons when he allegedly stormed into an Aurora, Colorado theater in July, 2012 and proceeded to slay the moviegoers with assault weapons, USA Today reports.

What does pleading insanity mean for Holmes' case?

Judge Allows Insanity Plea

The insanity plea was initially the subject of a constitutional claim by Holmes' lawyers who argued that Colorado law forces Holmes to cooperate with doctors during a mental evaluation or else lose the opportunity to present evidence about insanity during the penalty phase of his trial.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. rejected those arguments last week, saying that both the Colorado insanity plea requirements and the evidence consequences were constitutional, reports The Associated Press.

By allowing Holmes to change his plea on Tuesday to an insanity plea, Judge Samour has allowed the defense to consider evidence like Holmes' notebook of his detailed plans which was sent to his university psychiatrist before the shootings, reports Yahoo! News.

Colorado Insanity Defense

Every state differs on what it requires of a defendant who pleads guilty by reason of insanity, but in Colorado, the burden of proof is on the prosecution for Holmes' criminal insanity. Colorado law says that a person can be found not guilty by reason of insanity if the defendant:

  • Is incapable of distinguishing right from wrong OR
  • Has a mental disease or defect which prevents them from forming the required mental state for the crime.

Once evidence of insanity is introduced by Holmes' lawyers, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes was sane.

Trial Set 2014

Holmes is set to stand trial in February 2014, reports USA Today, where jurors will hear both evidence of his guilt as well as evidence of his sanity at the same time. Holmes' evidence regarding sanity may also be used as mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of his trial if he is found guilty.

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