Choice Theory and Ethical Responsibilities

In a criminal trial, prosecutors carry out numerous duties that extend to all parts of the courtroom work group. Firstly, they can only charge an individual when probable cause is present while still upholding the law, and his or her due process rights. Secondly, they must also decide whether to file and pursue said charges when the circumstance is appropriate, or not. Lastly, they have ethical responsibilities: they must disclose all known exculpatory evidence, avoid conflicts of interest, and refrain from exhibiting any behavior that would interfere with the fair administration of justice. They represent public interest and safety, and their goal is to lawfully protect the innocent and convict the guilty. In the case of James Holmes, the prosecution argued that he was not acting out of insanity, but that his assault of the theater was planned because he “stockpiled guns and ammunition and mapped out the Aurora theater complex to determine which auditorium would allow for the most casualties. He even calculated police response times” (The Associated Press, 2015).

Defense attorneys represent the defendant – also named the accused because he or she is being faced with charges – and prepares them for possible defeat through negotiation of various pleas. Since these advocates take on many cases at once, they aim to quickly close pre-existing ones. Essentially, their role is to negotiate a plea deal that is ideal for the defendant and adheres to proper legal and ethical standards (whether it be dropping minute charges, lowering a sentence duration, or even negotiating the cost of a fine depending upon the degree of an infraction).

Holmes’ defense team argued that he was in the grips of a psychotic episode when the shooting occurred, which inhibited his ability to distinguish right from wrong; therefore, he should not be charged with the murders and spared his life (Tribune Wire Reports, 2015). They also discovered that Holmes had a family history of mental illness, from an aunt diagnosed with schizophrenia to an institutionalized grandfather, and that his own display of symptoms associated with this ailment led him to experience delusions in which he believed killing others would increase his self-worth (Tribune Wire Report, 2015).

When all was said and done, James Holmes was sentenced to life in prison with an additional 3,318 years on top of that. Regarding whether I agree with this punishment or not, I happen to be torn. Based upon my readings, I agree with the prosecution that this was a planned and calculated attack. Therefore, I think he deserves to sit in prison for the rest of his days dealing with his guilt rather than be executed and left to feel nothing at all. On the other side of the coin, I believe that the additional years added onto his life are somewhat unnecessary, as LWOP (life without parole) sentences receive no special considerations on appeal (meaning that there is little to no possibility they will be reduced or reversed). Freud’s psychoanalytic theory aligns with the defense’s arguments, as the theory states that thoughts and actions we carry out are driven from unconscious motives that we have no control or awareness of (Gaines & Miller, 2017).

According to the defense, Holmes had also fantasized about murder from early on in his childhood (Tribune Wire Report, 2015), and children tend to be more impulsive than adults as they are driven by their endless imagination and fantasies that emerge from somewhere deeper than their thoughts. It could be possible that the subconscious entity that planted those ideas in his mind as a child manifested over the years as he grew up and became strong enough to make him act upon those suppressed, aggressive urges.

As for the prosecution, choice theory seems to be a tailored fit because Holmes had plotted this scheme for some time, therefore reinforcing the ideology that he chose to carry out this heinous act because no insane person would accumulate an arsenal over time, boobytrap their home, calculate police response time, or try and determine which auditorium would hold the most people in order to increase the casualty rate.