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James Holmes to Be Harnessed to Floor During Aurora Massacre Trial

james-holmes-orange-jumpsuit

James Holmes will be shackled like animal during his murder trial for no apparent reason.

AP (“Holmes to wear hidden harness anchored to floor“):

Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes will be restrained during his trial by wearing a harness under his clothes that will be anchored to the floor, the judge said Thursday.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. also ruled the jury will not be sequestered during the trial, which is scheduled to start in February and is expected to take four months.
Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others at a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora in July.

He has worn heavy shackles on his wrists and ankles during pretrial hearings. His lawyers wanted him to be unshackled during the trial, saying the restraints would make him look guilty to the jury.

Samour said Holmes has to be restrained because he is charged with violent crimes. He said jurors won’t see the harness, and the anchoring cable will blend in with computer cables at the defense table.

The judge ruled earlier that Holmes can wear civilian clothing at his trial.

I have no sympathy for Holmes an no doubt, reasonable or otherwise, that he’s a mass murderer. Nonetheless, in our system of laws he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law by the state.

To be sure, the state has held him in prison for months awaiting trial. But we have a system of due process wherein the state has a burden to demonstrate the necessity of pretrail confinement. Absent evidence that he’s liable to present a danger to others in a courtroom with armed policemen present, he ought be entitled to dignity in the courtroom and, in the presence of jurors at least, be treated as an innocent man by the state. The notion that he should have to be granted permission to wear “civilian clothing” while at trial boggles the mind; of course he’s entitled to do so.

Update (Doug Mataconis): An attorney who practices in the same courthouse where Holmes is going to be tried reports that these restraints are common practice there for defendants in custody. According to what he relates, the restraint is done via a mechanism that is invisible to the jury, which mostly alleviates my own concern about the possible prejudicial impact of seeing a Defendant restrained may have on a jury. Nonetheless, it’s unusual to me and something I’ve only seen here in Virginia in the most extreme circumstances where there a Defendant has been violent in Court in the past.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Are they trying to sell this guy as the new Hannibal Lecter? That’s what I gather from this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    His lawyers wanted him to be unshackled during the trial, saying the restraints would make him look guilty to the jury.

    I would think his lawyers would be ecstatic with this ruling. Now they can point to the shackles and say, “See? He is so crazy they don’t dare take the cuffs off him.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  3. Have there been reports of outbursts in Court or elsewhere by Holmes? Absent that, I’m not sure how this is justifiable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. CSK says:

    The only outburst I know of was one by the father of one of the victims, who yelled, “Rot in hell.”

    By ordering him shackled, the judge appears to be buying into the notion that Holmes is too unstable to be treated as a “normal” defendant would be. That, in turn, might bolster the insanity plea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. PD Shaw says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Good point. I think the defense would strongly give that consideration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Anderson says:

    Samour said Holmes has to be restrained because he is charged with violent crimes.

    That implies that *every* Colorado defendant “charged with violent crimes” is shackled like this. Should be pretty easy to check if that’s true or not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. I’m sitting about five yards from a guy Holmes shot. I asked him how he felt about this. He’s alright with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  8. James Joyner says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Well, yeah. But the law isn’t supposed to be administered according to the passions of the victims but rather according to the dictates of due process. And this undermines Holmes’ legal presumption of innocence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  9. @James Joyner:

    And this undermines Holmes’ legal presumption of innocence.

    Not necessarily. The presumption of innocence is an intellectual feat that is not made impossible by the presence of shackles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  10. James Joyner says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): We do not in our system ordinary shackle accused murderers while they’re in the courtroom. The reasons we don’t do that are: 1) it ain’t necessary and 2) doing so further increases the impression that “he must be guilty of somethin’ or he wouldn’t be here.”

    In this case, the evidence that he done it is extremely high; it was a crowd scene, after all, and he was caught in the act. I’m just saying that, absent a public safety necessity, we ought nonethless preserve the legal niceties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. @James Joyner:

    I’m just saying that, absent a public safety necessity, we ought nonethless preserve the legal niceties.

    While I get your point, I think the extraordinary nature of the crime –not just the theater shooting, but the boobytrapping his apartment with napalm thing– here provides sufficient justification for the restraints. I don’t think it’s ideal….but then again, I don’t think it’s scandalous either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  12. MM says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Because absent being tethered to the floor he’s going to booby trap the courtroom with the button from his suitcoat and a love letter from a Holmie?

    He’s a killer, not a wizard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. Dazedandconfused says:

    I think he’s going for the insanity plea, so not chaining him would be forfeiting his constitutional right to the presumption of insanity. I’d be asking for the whole Hannibal Lechter get-up, if it were me. Wheel me in on a hand-truck, or better yet, a cage!

    Joking aside, I also think the reason given by the court is wrong. It shouldn’t be “history of violent behavior”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. @MM:

    He’s a killer, not a wizard.

    Which is why he’s in restraints and not a horcrux.

    I know, I know, I’m a horrible person to say this, but if Holmes hadn’t put so much effort into giving people the impression that he was homicidally insane, he could probably sit through his murder trial without restraints. But he made some different choices.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  15. ernieyeball says:

    It’s been done before.
    See Bobby Seale:
    http://www.onthisdeity.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/bobby_seale_bound.jpg

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Tyrell says:

    “would make him look guilty to the jury” Am I missing something here ? Is there another possible
    suspect here ? Is there any doubt about who did this crime? Now chaining to the floor could be left out; just put him in a double straight jacket with some sort of muzzle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  17. rudderpedals says:

    @James Joyner: Highly OT….trackbacks were showing up for a couple of days last week. IMO they’re cool. Please consider bringing them back.

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  18. James Joyner says:

    @rudderpedals: Turning them back on reminded me why I turned them off: the vast majority of them are spam. It’s just more trouble to keep up with the spammers than the value added from the few worthwhile sites sending pingbacks and trackbacks.

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