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Not guilty plea for James Holmes – but insanity option still on table

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Last week, however, Judge Sylvester ruled that, in fact, the statutes are constitutional and that prior case law provides clear definitions. He refused to make a judgment on their arguments that there may be particular contradictions in death-penalty cases, writing that "this Court has not and will not address any questions dependent on hypothetical facts and circumstances not before it at this time."

While a "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea might offer the best possibility for Holmes to escape execution, or even life in prison, it is also the most complex option. He would be immediately ordered to undergo an independent psychiatric evaluation by state medical examiners – with which he would need to cooperate, or risk losing any right to call other witnesses to his mental condition. Also, prosecutors would gain access to his health records.

Holmes could also be medicated during interviews by psychologists and forced to take a polygraph, Sylvester noted Monday. His lawyers have objected to the narcoanalytic interview, in which he could be forced to take "truth serum" to make him more compliant.

Given that those rulings just came through Monday, it's not that surprising that Holmes's lawyers wanted to wait to enter a plea, says Dan Recht, a prominent criminal defense attorney based in Denver. What is more surprising, Mr. Recht says, is that the judge forced the plea and didn't grant the delay the lawyers requested, especially given that Sylvester had just issued a written order the day before on the consequences of an insanity plea.

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