The news media have tapped Senior Associate Dean Daniel Filler for his insights on the James Holmes trial and Pennsylvania juvenile sentencing laws.
Holmes, who was charged with murdering 12 people and attempting to murder another 116 during a July 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., offered to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for immunity from death penalty sentencing, the Christian Science Monitor reported. However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, prosecutors rejected the plea, arguing that it was merely a ploy by the defense to ultimately bolster Holmes' insanity defense.
Filler, who has previously shared his thoughts on the case, explained that, unlike other states, prosecutors in Colorado have the burden to disprove insanity. Filler argued, however, that they should not have much difficulty doing so in this case. "While formally the burden of proof is on the prosecution, the reality is that juries are not typically very sympathetic to insanity claims,” Filler said. “It is important to distinguish the formal rules of law and what the practical challenges are. The reality is the prosecution has the winds at its back in arguing [Holmes] is not insane because, after a horrible crime, juries are not looking for a way to absolve the defendant.”
Separately, Filler spoke to the Pittsburgh Tribune about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's recent ruling on juveniles sentenced to life without parole. In the case of Qu'eed Batts, who was 14 when he was convicted of killing two men and sentenced to life without parole, the court sent the case back down to the trial judge to issue a new minimum sentence, the Tribune reported. The case follows a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling Filler previously commented on which found mandatory life without parole sentencing for juveniles unconstitutional.
Although the Batts case gives some hope to convicted juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania, it is questionable whether others will actually see their sentences reduced, Filler told the Tribune. “The Batts decision was a win for prosecutors statewide,” Filler said. “Under this ruling, there is the possibility that some kids will get out of jail, but the decision will be left up to trial judges.”