James Holmes to Wear Harness During Trial

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 28, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Accused murderer James Holmes won't be fidgeting in his chair much at his upcoming trial, after a Colorado judge ruled that Holmes will be strapped into a harness tethered by a cable to the courtroom floor.

The alleged Aurora movie theater gunman faces the death penalty if convicted for the murder of 12 moviegoers in July 2012. Holmes will be constantly restrained by the court-ordered harness during the trial because the judge found he poses a security and safety risk, reports Reuters.

Is Holmes' harness something that jurors will notice, and could it potentially prejudice them?

Hidden Harness for Protection

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., who's presiding over Holmes' murder trial, determined Thursday that Holmes will be required to wear a harness underneath his clothing, in order to hide it from the jury, reports The Associated Press.

There are legitimate reasons for a court to mandate that a defendant be restrained, as some have even been known to attack their own attorneys during trial.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, giving Judge Samour a decent basis for claiming that he might be a danger to those in the court.

Danger of Prejudice

The reason for the hidden harness and not simply handcuffing the suspected shooter is that Holmes' attorneys have argued that seeing him shackled to his chair would unfairly prejudice the jury against Holmes, reports Reuters.

A defendant has the right to a trial before an unbiased jury, and a defendant's appearance has an enormous effect, even if subconscious, on jurors.

So when Holmes appears before the jury while cabled to the floor -- not unlike how one might chain up a dangerous dog -- the jury may assume that he is a dangerous man and more likely to have committed the murders.

This shouldn't be a problem, the judge told Holmes' lawyers, as the cable will be indistinguishable from other computer cables underneath the defense counsel's desk, the AP reports.

Jury Not Sequestered

Even if the jury doesn't notice a harness cable running from the floor of the courtroom to the accused Aurora shooter's back, they may find out about it when they leave the courtroom, since they will not be sequestered.

Juries are often sequestered, especially in high profile murder cases, to avoid the danger of outside influence. But Judge Samour ruled that danger isn't present at this point in the trial.

James Holmes' trial is slated to begin in February 2014.

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