Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora theater shooting case: DA says insanity defense laws are constitutional

Colorado's insanity defense laws are constitutional and any court-ordered mental evaluation that Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes might undergo would not violate his right against self-incrimination, prosecutors argue in motions made public Wednesday.

The arguments are in response to five motions filed by Holmes's attorneys last week in which they asked the court to clarify certain aspects of the laws, explaining that Holmes "cannot intelligently decide how to proceed" until he understands the consequences.

Holmes's lawyers say he is considering entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. (An arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.) But according to Colorado law, if Holmes wants to call expert witnesses to testify that he's insane, he has to cooperate with a court-ordered mental evaluation. It's a classic case of getting a second opinion; prosecutors can use the results of the court-ordered mental evaluation to rebut what Holmes's experts say.

In motions filed last week, Holmes's attorneys asked the court to clarify the meaning of the word "cooperate" and the term "mental condition." Among other requests, they asked the judge to rule that "state doctors should not be allowed to interrogate Mr. Holmes about the facts of the case" or cause him to incriminate himself.

But prosecutors argue that the meaning of "cooperate" is clear; they even quote the dictionary. Furthermore, they write, "it is well-established law in Colorado that submitting to court-ordered mental condition evaluations does not violate a defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination."

They also argue that the term "mental condition" is well-defined. "The Colorado Supreme Court has answered the queries posed throughout the defendant's motion, namely that the mental condition statutes define mental condition to include conditions of a defendant's mind beyond issues of insanity," prosecutors write

Holmes's attorneys also asked the judge for clarification as to the scope of a court-ordered evaluation. They point out that the law says an evaluation should reach two conclusions: whether a suspect was insane at the time of the crime and how a suspect's mental disease or defect "affects any mitigating factor."

It's the second opinion that Holmes's attorneys are unsure about. "If this court orders an evaluation only as to the affirmative defense of insanity, and the prosecution subsequently files a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, will this court order a second evaluation for purposes of an...opinion regarding how any mental disease or defect 'affects any mitigating factor' -- whatever that means?" they write.

But prosecutors argue the laws are clear; they say that the results of any court-ordered examination can be used "to prove the existence or absence of any mitigating factor." A mitigating factor is evidence used to argue for a lesser sentence.

Prosecutors also note that the state public defender's office, which is representing Holmes, filed similar motions in two previous death penalty cases against defendants David Bueno and Sir Mario Owens. Both times, the motions were denied.

Read prosecutors' responses to Holmes's motions below.

People's Response to Motion for Definition of Cooperate

People's Response to Motion to Define Mental Condition

People's Response to Defendant's Motion to Preserve Constitutional Rights

People's Response to Defendant's Motion Regarding the Scope and Nature of Any Evaluation

People's Response to Defendant's Motion to Declare Statute Unconstitutional

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Theater shooting case: Judge denies city of Aurora's request to lift gag order."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar

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