The judge in the Aurora movie-theater-shooting murder case has rebuffed an effort to declare Colorado's laws for insanity pleas unconstitutional, just days before suspect James Holmes is due to enter a plea.
The ruling, issued Friday, brings a rapid resolution to a complicated legal issue that first appeared in the case a week ago. It now appears that Holmes' arraignment — at which he would enter a plea — will go forward as planned Tuesday morning. Prosecutors would then have about two months to say whether they will seek the death penalty.
Holmes' attorneys had sought to declare the state's insanity-plea laws unconstitutional because, in part, they require a defendant who pleads not guilty by reason of insanity to cooperate in an independent psychiatric evaluation. Holmes' attorneys said requiring such cooperation violates a defendant's rights against self-incrimination. They challenged the laws as too vague, especially when overlaid with laws governing death-penalty cases. And they said that, without greater clarity, they could not provide effective assistance to Holmes.
But 18th Judicial District Chief Judge William Sylvester dispatched each of those concerns in his 15-page order. Sylvester wrote that rulings in previous cases — legally known as "case law" — provide clear definitions of the laws. He wrote that appellate courts have frequently ruled that laws requiring mental-health evaluations as part of insanity pleas are constitutional.
And he wrote that the lengthy motions filed by Holmes' attorneys — five in all — belie concerns about providing effective assistance.
"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," he wrote.
Sylvester's order, though, does not mean these issues are settled for good in Holmes' case. As for concerns about how the insanity-plea laws work in death-penalty cases, Sylvester declined to make a ruling because prosecutors have not yet sought the death penalty against Holmes.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, email@example.com or twitter.com/john_ingold