It's certainly conceivable, as The Los Angeles Times' Rick Serrano first reported, that Jared Loughner, the alleged Tucson shooter, will change his plea to "guilty" at a status conference Tuesday in federal court in Phoenix. But an awful lot can happen between now and then-- an awful lot can happen in the span of an hour for a schizophrenic who has to be treated with psychotropic medicine-- so it's wise to take Saturday evening's scoop with a dose of caution. In the meantime, here are six quick legal points to keep in mind:
Competency, Times Two. U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns will have a tough job Tuesday. He will be asked, essentially, to twice find Loughner competent. First, as Serrano reported, the judge will have to evaluate whether the court-appointed doctor has accurately assessed Loughner as mentally competent enough now to understand the nature of the proceedings against him. Next, Judge Burns will have to engage with Loughner in a plea colloquy to determine whether he understands the ramifications of his guilty plea.
The Terms of the Deal. Will Loughner be able to convince the judge on Tuesday that he's sane enough to plead guilty? Will prosecutors formally recommend that he be given a life sentence without the possibility of parole? Will Judge Burns, assuming he finds Loughner competent, accept such a sentencing recommendation? This is a little different from the case of the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, who also pleaded guilty in federal court to capital charges. In that case, on the eve of trial, the feds had already announced they intended to seek the death penalty. Here, they have not.