Prosecutors are filing formal charges Monday against
shooting suspect James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding
58 others at a midnight movie screening.
The real question seems to be sanity and whether there is any defence for
The law in
is fairly straightforward. If you are
insane, as defined, you cannot be convicted of a criminal offence. The Colorado
Criminal Code provides, “A person who is insane, as defined …, is not
responsible for his or her conduct defined as criminal” (18-1-802).
If your actions are mass murder you will likely be locked away in an institution for the rest of your life but that institution will be a secure hospital and not a prison.
If you are so mentally unstable as to not be able to even instruct a lawyer, you are not competent to stand trial and the defence of insanity does not even arise.
Colorado courts draw a
sharp distinction between competence and insanity. Incompetency merely abates
the action and is procedural in effect, while insanity is substantive and
renders the defendant not guilty. People
v. Gillings, 39 Colo.
App. 387, 568 P.2d 92 (1977).
(unlike many jurisdictions) proof of sanity, once the issue is raised, rests
with the State. This is a long and well
established view in Colorado.
When the question of defendant's sanity is properly raised, the burden is upon the people to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was sane at the time he committed the act charged. If the evidence raises in the minds of the jury a reasonable doubt of defendant's sanity at the time of the commission of the crime charged, they must find him not guilty. Ingles v. People, 92
Colo. 518, 22 P.2d 1109 (1933). That said, the State is not required in the
first instance to offer proof of sanity, sanity being presumed in the absence
of evidence tending to show the contrary. But when evidence is introduced
tending to show insanity, the people have the burden of proving beyond a
reasonable doubt the sanity of the defendant. Graham v. People, 95 Colo.
544, 38 P.2d 87 (1934). Every criminal
defendant is presumed sane, but once any evidence of insanity is introduced at
trial, the burden of proof is on the people to prove sanity beyond a reasonable
doubt. People v. Wright, 648 P.2d 665
( Colo. 1982).
The definition of insanity is set out in s. 16-8-101.5 of TITLE 18. CRIMINAL CODE:
(1) The applicable test of insanity shall be:
(a) A person who is so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act is not accountable; except that care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions, for, when the act is induced by any of these causes, the person is accountable to the law; or
(b) A person who suffered from a condition of mind caused by mental disease or defect that prevented the person from forming a culpable mental state that is an essential element of a crime charged, but care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions because, when the act is induced by any of these causes, the person is accountable to the law.
(2) As used in subsection (1) of this section:
(a) "Diseased or defective in mind" does not refer to an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.
(b) "Mental disease or defect" includes only those severely abnormal mental conditions that grossly and demonstrably impair a person's perception or understanding of reality and that are not attributable to the voluntary ingestion of alcohol or any other psychoactive substance but does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.