As the legal proceedings continue in the case of James Holmes, the gunman who shot and killed 12 people and injured 48 in Aurora, Colorado last summer, a judge has ruled that a drug can be used in the event that Holmes pleads insanity.
This in itself is insane, and raises many questions.
Holmes has yet to enter into a plea of his own regarding the shootings, but should he claim that he was insane at the time of the mass shooting, the prosecution can request that he take Sodium Amytal or something similar. The intention of forcing him to take this drug is to encourage him to speak the truth regarding his state of mind during the shooting.
Lawyers are already worried that his fifth amendment rights would be placed in jeopardy, i.e. his right not to incriminate himself, and so the court case could become very long and complicated. It is also generally acknowledged that the longer court cases proceed, the more likely guilt and accountability will start to diminish.
The term insanity itself is also tremendously problematic; insanity is a legal definition, not a psychological one, and the irony is that a defendant has to be deemed psychologically fit in order to stand trial in the first place. There seems to be anticipation from the prosecution to expect a plea of insanity, and so this measure has been argued and introduced in case it does happen. But it seems almost spiteful, like if Holmes has the audacity to claim he was insane, then he can be forced to take a drug that will encourage him to speak the truth – that is a threat, both to Holmes personally, and to the health of the criminal justice system. Dr. August Piper, a psychiatrist who is familiar with sodium amytal, has even claimed that the drug makes people even more suggestible to outside influence and that there is no guarantee that it will encourage a person to speak the truth.
Holmes could also be insane. We know that he was visiting a psychologist while attending university, and it is more than possible that he has a serious disorder or a neurological problem. If this is true, and Holmes’ defense pleads insane, then a mentally ill person will be forced to take a drug simply because the prosecution are not willing to accept it.
The actions of Holmes were devastating and tragic – and clearly, he needs to be kept out of society and be encouraged to feel remorse for what he did. But it seems tremendously lazy and unethical on behalf of the prosecution to dangle the use of powerful (but problematic) drugs over the defendant’s head before the trial has even got underway.