Participants in the Aurora, Co., theater shooting case will wrestle with some of the most contested concepts in law, including sanity, an impartial jury and the political pressures for punishment in a deeply wounded community, says the New York Times. During a court hearing Monday, defendant James Eagan Holmes gazed at the ceiling lights, suggesting a mental state that his publicly appointed lawyers will focus on: Does he understand what is going on? Can he assist in his defense? Is he competent to stand trial?
“I wonder if he can have a rational conversation, whether he can string words together into a sentence,” said Elizabeth Kelley, a Cleveland defense lawyer. Psychiatrists will ask Holmes a series of scripted questions aimed at providing a rating of his mental competence, said Paul Appelbaum, a professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University. One concern is what information should be withheld from the prosecution and public to ensure a fair trial. A judge’s gag order has come under scrutiny. News organizations, including the Times, filed a motion asking for access to case documents. It says the seal “violates the public's constitutional right of access to the records of criminal prosecutions, and undermines our nation's firm commitment to the transparency and public accountability of the criminal justice system.” If Holmes does stand trial, his lawyers are likely to argue that he should be declared not guilty by reason of insanity because he did not know the difference between right and wrong when he entered the theater.