Legal and medical experts are questioning the decision of a judge in Colorado to allow James Holmes, the suspected gunman in the Aurora cinema shooting, to be tested with a "truth serum" should he plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Judge William Sylvester ruled that in the event of Holmes pleading insanity his prosecutors would be permitted to interrogate him while he is under the influence of a medical drug designed to loosen him up and get him to talk. The idea would be that such a "narcoanalytic interview" would be used to confirm whether or not he had been legally insane when he embarked on his shooting spree on 20 July last year.
The precise identity of the drug that would be used has not been released, other than a statement that it would be "medically appropriate", but it would most likely be a short-acting barbiturate such as sodium amytal.
William Shepherd, chair of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association, whose members include both prosecutors and defence lawyers, said that the proposed use of a "truth drug" to ascertain the veracity of a defendant's plea of insanity was highly unusual in the US. He predicted it would provoke intense legal argument relating to Holmes's right to remain silent under the fifth amendment of the US constitution.
"If a defendant loses his right to remain silent because the court has authorised the use of drugs that make him talk, that would raise all sorts of fifth amendment issues that both sides would have to address."
Shepherd also wondered whether some members of the trial jury would object to "the sound of the government forcing a truth serum down the throat of a defendant".
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