Jared Loughner Sentenced Today to Seven Life Terms

November 8, 2012

Fernanda Santos of the New York Times reports that Jared Loughner was sentenced today in federal court to 7 life terms in the shooting incident that left 6 people dead and 12 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Her husband, Mark Kelly, confronted him during the sentencing.

“As a packed courtroom fell silent, Mr. Kelly, with Ms. Giffords at his side, told Mr. Loughner, 24, that he had failed in his effort to create a world as dark as the one he inhabited.

“You may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven’t put a dent on her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place,” said Mr. Kelly about Ms. Giffords, who was gravely wounded and whose arm was in a sling on Thursday.

Ms. Giffords, who resigned from Congress in January 2012, and who has difficulty speaking as a result of her injury, “struggles to walk, her right arm is paralyzed, she’s partially blind,” Mr. Kelly said.

Ms. Giffords did not speak at the hearing, at which victims described the impact of Mr. Loughner’s January 2011 shooting spree, but looked directly at Mr. Loughner as her husband read from a statement.

“After today, after this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you,” Mr. Kelly concluded. With that, he and Ms. Giffords walked away.”


Schizophrenia and Predicting Future Dangerousness

August 8, 2012

thejbmission asked an excellent question about schizophrenics and why our legal and mental health systems wait until after a tragic event occurs before doing anything to prevent it.

The short answer is mental health experts cannot accurately and reliably predict future dangerousness by schizophrenics. They are as likely to be right as they would be if they flipped a coin.

Most people afflicted by schizophrenia are not violent and, since they are not a danger to themselves or to others, they cannot be involuntarily committed to a secure mental health treatment facility. Without medication they are often delusional and when they are delusional, they cannot hold a job. The antipsychotic medication that keeps the delusions at bay has unpleasant side effects, however, that leave them feeling deadened like zombies. Families can do little to help them and they are often homeless wandering aimlessly about our cities talking to the voices no one else can hear. They occasionally commit petty crimes to survive and when they do, they are likely to be arrested and taken to jail. They plead guilty, are sentenced to time served, and released to the streets to begin the endless cycle anew.

Our mental health laws prohibit involuntary commitments unless a mental health professional, who typically is a screener at a hospital ER, finds probable cause that the person is dangerous to himself or to others. Such a finding usually results after an attempt to commit suicide.

The involuntary commitment is limited to 72 hours and cannot be extended unless approved by a judge following a hearing. The patient has a right to be present at the hearing and represented by counsel. If the judge finds probable cause to believe that the patient is a danger to himself or to others, the involuntary commitment will be extended for a period of 30 days and, upon review, may be extended for another 30 day period, etc.

Most people are released after the 72 hour period.

Predictions by mental health experts regarding who will commit acts of future violence are about as likely to be accurate as a coin flip. Therefore, there is no factual, medical or legal justification for singling out anyone, whether schizophrenic or not, and confining them for any reason for any length of time unless, due to a recent event, they are a danger to themselves or to others. That danger must be fact-based and immediate.


Loughner: Defense and Prosecution Benefit from Guilty Plea in Exchange for No Death Penalty

August 6, 2012

According to recent news reports, Jared Laughner is now competent and will plead guilty in federal court tomorrow (Tuesday) in exchange for the prosecution’s agreement not to seek the death penalty. No additional details were reported. I have written the following article based on the assumption that these reports are true.

I believe both sides and the public benefit from this agreement for the following reasons.

The defense benefits because there is a significant probability that it would fail to convince the jury that Mr. Loughner was insane when he shot all of the victims. As I have explained in previous articles, the legal test for insanity requires proof that a defendant was suffering from a mental disease or defect when he committed the crime, such that he was unable to distinguish between right and wrong and conform his conduct to the requirements of law.

Most mentally ill defendants, including those who were psychotic and delusional when they committed the crime, cannot satisfy this test because they knew they did something wrong and would get in trouble with the law, if they were caught. That is, the defense will likely fail if there is any evidence that the defendant knew he was committing a crime or if he attempted to conceal evidence of the crime and his participation in it. In addition, a defendant does not go free, if he is found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The prosecution benefits from the agreement because it achieves the most probable outcome of a trial without having to expend all of the effort, time and money necessary to try the case. A guilty plea also avoids a lengthy appeal process and establishes a finality to the legal process. That in turn creates an important opportunity for victims and their families to begin the process of healing themselves and moving on with their lives.

There is no doubt that Mr. Loughner was psychotic and delusional when he committed the crimes and, even if the jury rejected the insanity defense and found him guilty, there is a significant probability that the jury would conclude that his impaired mental condition when he committed the crimes was a sufficient mitigating circumstance to justify sentencing him to life in prison instead of sentencing him to death.

The public benefits from the agreement because it produces a fair and equitable result, given Mr. Loughner’s serious mental illness and disabilities. Schizophrenia is a horrific disease that destroys lives by causing delusions that the person cannot distinguish from reality. Even though medication can reduce and often prevent delusions, it has unpleasant zombie-like side effects that eliminate joy and excitement. Since schizophrenia is a debilitating disease that no one would voluntarily choose, basic human decency, empathy and mercy call for a life sentence, rather than the death penalty.

Before the Court can accept a guilty plea, it must determine whether Mr. Loughner is competent. Mr. Loughner had refused to take anti-psychotic medication until the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed the trial court’s order to medicate him forcibly, if necessary. I think we can reasonably conclude that he has taken the medication and is now competent since this hearing would not have been scheduled, unless he were competent and his lawyers were able to explain and discuss the terms of the plea agreement, including the important constitutional rights he will be giving up, if he pleads guilty.

We can expect one or more mental health experts will testify tomorrow that he is competent. That is, that he is oriented as to time and place, understands his legal predicament and the possible consequences if convicted, can tell the difference between the truth and a lie, can communicate with his lawyers and assist them to represent him, is capable of making decisions that are in his best interest, and understands the obligation to answer the Court’s questions truthfully.

Assuming the Court finds him competent, it will ask him a series of questions about the guilty plea to determine if he has read and reviewed it with his lawyers, understands all of its terms, and knows that he will give up the right to go to trial if he pleads guilty.

After confirming that he has knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently decided to waive his right to trial in order to receive the benefit of his agreement with the prosecution, the Court will ask him to state in his own words what he did.

Defendants usually follow the advice of their lawyers to provide a simple bare-bones set of facts that support the charges to which they are pleading guilty.

If the statement is sufficient, the Court will accept the guilty plea and approve the plea agreement.

Normally, sentencing takes place six weeks later to allow time for the United States Probation Office to prepare a report regarding the defendant’s role in the offenses, the applicable sentencing ranges for the offenses, and a sentencing recommendation. Since the parties and the Court will have agreed to the sentence, there will not be any need for the report. Do not be surprised if the Court waives the presentence report with the agreement of the prosecution and the defense and proceeds directly to impose a life sentence.

I believe this probably is a fair, just and equitable resolution of the case. I say “probably” because I do not know if the State of Arizona is satisfied with the outcome. The United States lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Loughner for four of the murders because those victims were not federal employees carrying out their official duties when they were killed.

The four private citizens were:

(1) Christina Taylor-Green (age 9);

(2) Dorwin Stoddard (age 76);

(3) Dorothy Murray (age 76); and

(4) Phyllis Schneck (age 79).

The State of Arizona has jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Loughner for those four murders, since the crimes were committed in Arizona.

The State of Arizona also has a death penalty and it could prosecute Mr. Loughner for those murders and seek the death penalty, if he is convicted.

I believe the defense has attempted to do everything that it possibly can to persuade the state prosecutors to agree not to seek the death penalty against Mr. Loughner, if he pleads guilty to the federal charges.

I suspect they have decided not to seek the death penalty because they probably realize they would have no better chance than the federal prosecutors of convincing a jury to sentence Mr. Loughner to death, given the powerful mitigation evidence of mental illness.

Should this be the case, they may do nothing or they may have already agreed to charge Mr. Loughner with the four murders and the remaining crimes that the United States lacked jurisdiction to prosecute, but forego seeking the death penalty, if he pleads guilty to those offenses.

Although such an agreement would not add any time to his sentence, it might appease the prosecution’s desire to obtain convictions of record for crimes that Mr. Loughner committed but could not be prosecuted for in federal court due to lack of jurisdiction.

Mr. Loughner would not have much incentive to plead guilty in federal court to avoid the death penalty only to have Arizona seek the death penalty. Since he has agreed to plead guilty, I am inclined to believe that the State of Arizona has agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Three party global resolutions are tough, but not impossible to pull off. We will find out if that happened tomorrow.


Zimmerman, Loughner and Holmes: Are they Evil?

July 28, 2012

James Eagan Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 at the midnight opening of the new Batman film at a movie theater in Aurora, CO.

He had recently dropped out of the University of Colorado Medical School where he was enrolled in the Neuroscience doctoral program and we now know that he was a patient of Dr. Lynn Fenton, a psychiatrist and member of the medical school faculty specializing in the causes and treatment schizophrenia. She also is in charge of Student Mental Health Services.

Given his red and orange hair that he had recently dyed, he apparently believed himself to be or he assumed the role of the Joker, Batman’s arch enemy.

The Telegraph reports:

Police have said that he planned the attack meticulously, ordering ammunition and paramilitary supplies over the internet and buying four weapons legally at gun-stores in the Denver area over two months.

He also rigged his apartment with potentially lethal explosive devices that investigators believe were intended to kill police officers when they arrived to search his home.

The Telegraph reports that Holmes claims he does not recall the incident.

He is scheduled to appear in court Monday at which time he will be formally charged.

Colorado is a death penalty state and likely will seek the death penalty.

Like Jared Loughner, who potentially faces the death penalty for killing six people in Tucson, AZ, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, as well as wounding 14 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Holmes may not be competent to stand trial.

A person cannot be tried for a crime unless they are competent to stand trial.

To be competent, they must be oriented as to time and place, comprehend the charges against them, appreciate their legal peril, recall the events that caused them to be charged, and be able to communicate with and assist their attorneys to defend them.

According to the Telegraph, Holmes claims that he does not recall the incident. If that is true, he is incompetent to stand trial.

Should he become competent, he probably will assert the insanity defense.

Colorado combines the M’Naughten Rule with the irresistible impulse rule defining legal insanity as follows:

Whether as the result of a mental disease or defect, the defendant is unable to distinguish between right and wrong and conform his conduct to the requirements of law, or if he can distinguish between right and wrong, is he unable to stop himself from committing the crime.

The biggest stumbling block to satisfying the legal test for insanity is establishing that the defendant could not tell right from wrong. Any behavior that indicates an effort to conceal evidence or the crime itself demonstrates that, however delusional and psychotic a person may have been, they still knew they had committed a crime and sought to escape responsibility for it.

Many people use the word evil to describe people like Jared Loughner and James Eaton Holmes and the acts they allegedly committed.

But what constitutes evil?

Does evil exist?

Is evil something dark and satanic that exists somewhere out “there?”

Does it possess people?

If so, how does that happen?

If it does not exist out “there, where does it exist?”

Are people born evil?

How should the criminal justice system deal with evil, or should it ignore it?

Assuming evil exists, does it increase or diminish personal responsibility for committing crimes?

Assuming for the sake of argument that Jared Loughner committed the crimes charged, is he evil?

If convicted, should he be sentenced to death?

Assuming for the sake of argument that James Eaton Holmes committed the crimes charged, is he evil?

If convicted, should he be sentenced to death?

Finally, what about George Zimmerman?

Is he evil?


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