It was announced today that James Holmes, the man who killed 12 residents in a Colorado theatre, will have his defense of “criminal insanity” accepted by the court. The immediate reaction is outrage, with many claiming that Holmes plans to use plea as a way to avoid the death penalty, or sentencing all together.
Relax; it’s not going to work.
Simply because a court accepts a defense does not mean that defense will lead to freedom. By declaring insanity, Holmes has essentially admitted to the massacre, and is trying to argue that what he did simply isn’t his fault. If this explanation doesn’t pass your personal BS detector then good news: it probably won’t work on the twelve members of the jury.
Shows like Law & Order present the insanity plea as if it is a common defense. In reality, the defense is tried in less than one percent of trials, and of those who try it, less than a quarter succeed.
Even if Holmes is deemed insane and thus innocent, he is not free to go. Instead, he will be transferred to a medical health facility where he will be monitored until he is deemed sane enough to leave. In Holmes case, that period will be the rest of his life.
There is a chance that Holmes’ plea will work in sparring him from the death penalty. If you feel that’s the only justice he deserves then yes, you are allowed to be upset. No matter what happens, however, James Holmes will spend the rest of his life, no matter how long, behind bars.