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Insanity Plea Likely in Batman Shooting Trial

DENVER (CN) - A man facing trial over the 2012 movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., failed to show that rules for insanity pleas are unconsitutional, a judge ruled.

James Holmes faces 166 counts related to the July 2012 mass shooting that took place during a midnight premier of "The Dark Knight Rises." The 25-year-old former doctoral student, who allegedly carried out the shooting while dressed up as Batman's nemesis The Joker, will be arraigned on March 12.

Indicating that Holmes will possibly plead not guilty by reason of insanity at that hearing, defense attorneys filed five motions last month urging the Arapahoe County District Court to define several "unconstitutionally vague" terms in Colo. Rev. Stat. 16-8-106, which establish a framework by which a defendant's sanity can be evaluated.

In the event of such a plea, these rules would require Holmes to "cooperate" with a court-ordered psychiatric examination. His defense claimed, however, that this provision would compromise Holmes' constitutionally protected right to remain silent.

The defense also challenged the ambiguity of the term "mental condition," which the rules mention in conjunction with the polygraphs, confessions, and medical and social history of a defendant.

Judge William Blair Sylvester rejected both challenges Friday, ruling that the terms "are not so vague that men of ordinary intelligence must necessarily guess as to the meaning and differ to the application of the terms."

"State appellate courts have managed to define the terms 'cooperate' and 'mental condition' according to their plain and clear meaning, without resorting to speculation or guesswork," he wrote.

He added that "the court respectfully declines the invitation to answer any questions that depend on facts and circumstances not presently before the court."

In addition to refusing to address "questions dependent on hypothetical facts and circumstances," Sylvester said he "will not prejudge any issues or deliver any premature or advisory opinions."

"Similarly defendant's arguments regarding the statures and the general 'heightened reliability' required in capital cases are mixed questions of law and fact, and this court respectfully declines the opportunity to opine on those issues before the facts and circumstances related to those issues are fully before it," he added.

Defense attorneys for Holmes had claimed that the vagueness of the terms compromised their ability to provide effective assistance of counsel.

Sylvester disagreed, finding that "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."

The ruling also describes how attorneys for Holmes also argued that the statutes prevented their client "from making a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary plea; that the statutes burden defendant's constitutional right to be free from exercising one right at the cost of forfeiting another; that the statutes violate his constitutional right to present a defense; and that the statutes subject him to cruel and unusual punishment."

They allegedly claimed that the rules would violate both attorney-client privilege and the privilege between a patient and his physician or psychologist.

Among its more specific claims, the defense argued that "any statements made under the influence of a narcoanalytic drug or during a court-ordered polygraph are per se unreliable and/or involuntary and would violate a defendant's privilege against self-incrimination."

Sylvester concluded, however, that these challenges failed to pass muster.

"The court finds that defendant has not proved that the Statutes are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt and that any conflict between the Statutes and the constitution is clear and unmistakable," he wrote.

Attorneys for Holmes did receive a partial win as to their request for advice on the consequences of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the advisement attached to the ruling, Sylvester advised Holmes that if a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity were accepted, he would be committed to a "sanity examination" at a venue of the court's choosing. During the examination, he would indeed be required to cooperate with examiners, and might also be required to submit to a "narcoanalytic interview." Any statements made during the examination would be permissible in court, Sylvester said.

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