The twenty-four year old graduate student, James Holmes, who is the only suspect in the Batman shootings in Aurora, Colorado is currently being held in solitary confinement. According to the head of the Public Defenders Officer, this is standard in high profile cases. The police are likely attempting to question Holmes about the shooting. This stage is crucial in Holmes prosecution. The police must be careful to avoid violating Holmes’ constitutional rights. Since he is in custody, the police must read him his Miranda Rights before questioning Holmes. If he asks for an attorney, the police must cease with their questioning.
A public defender has already been appointed to Holmes case, but he may decide to hire a criminal defense lawyer. He is going to be arraigned in court tomorrow morning. An arraignment is the first step in a criminal proceeding during which a defendant is informed of the charges against him or her. A defendant can also enter a plea at this stage and usually has three options, not guilty, guilty or no contest.
If Holmes decides to enter a plea of not guilty, he will have the right to a trial by a jury of twelve people. He will likely be charged with First Degree Murder. First degree murder is generally defined as the unlawful killing of another person that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was planned. If Holmes is convicted, he will likely receive a life sentence or the prosecution may decide to seek the death penalty. Murder is a state crime, not a federal crime. There is no Federal Murder statute, and as a result, Holmes will not be tried in Federal Court. Colorado recognizes the Death Penalty.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently only four people on death row in Colorado and only one person has been executed since 1976. Death penalty cases are very different from other cases. Only a few lawyers handle death penalty cases, and the appellate process is also different in death penalty cases.
If Holmes is convicted after a jury trial, he will need to hire an experienced appellate attorney to handle his case. A direct appeal is automatic to every person sentenced to death. The appeal is made to the state’s highest court, usually the state supreme court. The direct appeal is limited to issues from the trial.
In South Carolina, the South Carolina Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear death penalty appeals. The South Carolina Court of Appeals has jurisdiction to hear murder cases that do not include the death penalty, and those cases can be heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court as well once the court of appeals has issued an opinion. In many murder cases, South Carolina appellate attorneys are granted Oral Arguments. South Carolina appellate attorneys typically spend a great deal of time preparing an initial brief as well as preparing for oral arguments.
If you have questions about filing an appeal or the appellate process in South Carolina, contact the appellate attorneys at the Mace Firm.