It is too early to tell, but he could be. There are three reasons people do these things.
- Lack of maturity (ex. desire to get attention or get back at someone);
- Political reasons (terrorism);
- Their brain was malfunctioning due to mental illness.
- James Holmes is 24, the age at which schizophrenia starts.
- He is delusional, i.e, believes he is the Joker.
- He was "normal" and then became withdrawn. Withdrawal is a common reaction to hallucinations.
- NY Daily News reported he has lack of affect ("shows no remorse")
- He is acting crazy spitting on everyone in jail.
- The owner of a shooting range reported Mr. Holmes' voice message was "bizarre"
If James Holmes had a mental illness that caused the shooting, what could have been done to prevent it?
Probably not much. While there are many (albeit, unused) legal procedures to help people who already have serious mental illness and a history of violence, it is much more difficult to help someone prior to a first episode without violating their rights. (Put another way: the law requires dangerous behavior rather than prevents it). One possible approach might be to make it easier to have someone undergo a 'capacity' or 'competency' hearing. These hearings determine whether someone is rational and can make their own decisions. They are frequently held for people with Alzheimer's, dementia, or developmental disabilities, but rarely for people with mental illness. If someone is found to lack capacity or competency, then someone else can be appointed to make decisions for them, which could include treatment.
What happens if James Holmes is found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity for the Colorado Shooting?
(Excerpted from op-ed I wrote a few years back in Wall Street Journal)
If he is found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity (NGRI) he will be put in locked psychiatric hospital. But theoretically, when sanity is restored, he can be released. As a practical matter, few judges are willing to risk that on their watch, so even when sanity is restored—he will likely be kept committed.
To protect against the possibility of NGRI acquitees going free, some states replaced NGRI with "guilty because of mental illness." Individuals found guilty because of mental illness go to a hospital until their sanity is restored and then to jail to finish out their sentence. This forces individuals who had no culpability for their actions to go to jail at the exact time it's not needed—when they've regained their sanity. For these individuals being mentally ill is the same as being guilty: either way, they go to jail.
Our current system incarcerates people who have no culpability for their actions. It keeps sane people involuntarily committed, and gives potentially violent mentally ill individuals the right to go off violence-preventing medications. That's not justice, it's mayhem.
To correct that, we have proposed that individuals found NGRI be 'sentenced' to treatment for the maximum amount of time they would have received had they been found guilty. This treatment could be in a locked ward if needed or in the community if safe. Treatment would be monitored (much like Parole). The individual could be moved back and forth between inpatient and outpatient treatment as needed with no further court proceedings necessary. This would keep them safe, save money, and keep communities safer.
The relationship between untreated serious mental illness and violence
Noncompliance in people with serious mental illness
For more on mental illness and violence visit http://mentalillnesspolicy.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.