Monday, August 6, 2012

Looking at the Insanity Plea

Much has been written of late concerning the use of the Insanity Plea as a defense in general and, in particular, in the case of James Holmes.  Holmes is the young man accused of multiple homicides in the shooting at a midnight showing of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Colorado, which resulted in 12 people being killed and another 59 wounded. Police say the suspect acted alone and had no prior criminal record or ties to terrorism. He had, though, been under the care of a Mental Health professional at the time, and his case was reviewed, at the direction of his doctor, by a crisis management team just days before the killings took place.

Now the deed is done, and the Monday morning “Quarterbacking” has begun in earnest. The talking heads on my TV all say that the Insanity Plea is a dead end, as Mr. Holmes clearly planned this attack beforehand. This line of thinking, in determining whether Mr. Holmes is sane or not, is like comparing an orange to a watermelon. It makes no sense.

If, for example, I were to plan a murder for profit; and then say I was crazy; that would be a ridiculous plea, which would carry no merit. I would, in that case, be “crazy as a fox.” Obviously my crime would have had a criminal purpose; I was driven by greed. But what about the Holmes case? Let’s take a look at it.

Here’s a young man; with known mental difficulties; whose own doctor even questioned whether or not he was a danger to himself and others. He has planned, in meticulous detail, a crime too heinous to imagine. And then he actually carries it out, resulting in the deaths and injuries mentioned above. He hopes to gain no profit from his act. He doesn’t even have a sense of reality about the whole event; he even asked a deputy, after the shooting, how the film ended.

When considering an Insanity Plea, the question is not whether we believe that the subject was capable of premeditation in the crime for which they stand accused; the real question is how sane was the plan to begin with. What possible gain was there for Mr. Holmes to attain, even if he had gotten away with the crime? The answer is patently obvious. There was no gain, no real motive other than to commit the crime. That’s insane. Just like the guy who contemplates whether or not he can fly by jumping off the roof, he’s clearly insane.

Is this a plea to spare Mr. Holmes life? Not a chance. I believe in the death penalty. I just believe in being honest with ourselves about why we execute people when we do. The law says we do not execute people who are insane. So, in order to execute Mr. Holmes, he must be found to be sane.

No matter how much we kid ourselves to the contrary, Mr. Holmes is damaged, and likely will never be “fixed”. I mourn for the families of those who lost loved ones by his actions. If he is found guilty, I support the application of the death penalty for his crimes. Just don’t expect me to believe that he is sane.

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