By Dr. Lawana R. Lofton, PsyD –
James Holmes, now forever linked to “The Dark Knight Rises” movie massacre in Colorado, is reported to have undergone Psychiatric treatment prior to his arrest according to court documents filed July 27, 2012.
Despite the Judge in the case implementing a gag order to not disclose any specifics of the case to media or law enforcement, reports surfaced University of Colorado Psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton, Medical Director of the school’s Student Mental Health Services, had been providing Mental Health outpatient treatment to James Holmes. Although the extent of treatment provided and severity of disorder treated, were not disclosed in the “unauthorized leak.” Reports indicated that Holmes was “the patient” of the Psychiatrist.
The crust of this matter is the University gave law enforcement the package mailed to the University [now we are learning it was addressed to the Psychiatrist] containing a notebook with descriptions of an attack; drawings, which the Defense Lawyer is stating is patient privileged protected information and should not have been released, nor made public.
According to July 27th AP reporting, James Holmes Defense Attorney filed a motion to uncover who disclosed unauthorized information about Holmes’ Confidential Mental Health history to the media. Stating the “leak” went against the Judge’s gag order thereby jeopardizing Holmes’ right to a fair trial.
“The government’s disclosure of this confidential and privileged information has placed Mr. Holmes’ constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial by an impartial jury in serious jeopardy,” wrote the attorneys.
Of note, when an individual enters into Mental Health treatment, records are to remain Confidential and are never released without a patient’s written consent. There are exceptions however, such as Confidentiality can be waived when there is a danger to self or others, child or elder abuse, and if ordered by a Judge. Under Tarasoff laws a treating provider can break a patient’s Confidentiality and has a duty to inform, report, and warn others potentially at risk of physical harm.
Above and beyond Confidentiality is Privilege and it only applies in a court of law. Privilege is a term used to describe obtaining patient consent to have their Mental Health history discussed in court.
Privilege is under the patient’s control and the patient is the one who decides if they want their Mental Health information brought into a court of law and made apart of a legal case, or defense. A patient can waive their Privilege or a Judge can subpoena the records. Since John Holmes’ mental status appears to be such a central theme in this case we can expect the court to order a Mental Heath Evaluation during the course of the trial.
Obviously, this will be a much debated case and more is needed as to when the “package” was received by the University and their duty to report and warn others of a potential threat.
This developing story only fuels ever increasing curiosity concerning James Holmes’ mental status. Not only questions as to rather he was sane at the time the crime was committed, but if he [James Holmes] may have a Mental Illness which contributed to the crimes committed.
How will this influence his defense?
Can James Holmes’ history of Mental Illness factor into a legal defense?
How does this impact the State’s ability to apply the Death Penalty? [If they wanted to]
I suspect James Holmes will not meet the legal definition to plea a defense of “Innocent by Reason of Insanity” even if he has a history of Mental Illness, or was receiving Psychiatric treatment surrounding the time of the crimes.
Partly due to his level of intent to commit the crimes, calculated planning over a period of time, the suspects competence level, and his understanding of consequences for his actions expressed after arrest. Reportedly shortly after arrest, James Holmes ask for a Lawyer implying [as it is viewed in the legal system] a basic understanding of the legal system as well as a basic understanding of the consequences of his actions.
This is viewed as knowing right from wrong and if one ask for a Lawyer it implies one needs a defense against a wrongful crime committed. This bit of behavior taken by James Holmes, even if he is deemed to have a Mental Illness, will have a significant impact on his legal case.
A plea of diminished capacity is different from a plea of insanity in that “reason of insanity” is a full defense while “diminished capacity” is merely a plea to a lesser crime. Either way, his [past] Psychiatric care may factor into the legal defense, but not be sufficient enough to excuse his actions at the time of the crime.
To prove a “Innocent by Reason of Insanity” Defense the Lawyer must prove a defendant was, at the actual time the crime was committed, was so impaired by a mental disease or defect that he or she did not know the nature or quality of the act, or, if the defendant did know the nature or quality of the act, they did not know the act was wrong.
A likely scenario is the suspect will be found guilty, and as a condition of his sentencing, the court will order mandatory Psychiatric treatment depending on the details of his Mental Health history to be discussed during trial, his Diagnosis, and Mental Status displayed in the months to come during trial.
Or, the over whelming evidence against him will be deemed strictly criminal homicidal behavior in nature, and he will face the full weight of the legal system with or without a history of Mental Illness.
How does this impact the State’s ability to apply the Death Penalty? Inmates who are insane, are exempt from execution. Inmates who are Mentally Ill, but not insane, have no such exemption.
Until Next Time: a’ Donf
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