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November 10, 2011

Three decades after shooting the President, John Hinckley's freedom still debated

As reported in this post from The BLT, "prosecutors are urging a judge in Washington to reject expanding the conditional release of John Hinckley Jr., the man who more than 30 years ago attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan." Here is more:

Judge Paul Friedman of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will preside over a hearing Nov. 28 to determine whether to allow Hinckley greater freedom, including some trips during which law enforcement officers would not know his whereabouts.

Friedman in July 2009 granted Hinckley twelve visits to his mother’s hometown in addition to allowing him certain periods of unaccompanied time.  Earlier this year, the judge extended the current conditional release program, giving Hinckley, who lives at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington, the chance to continue to visit his mother.

The hospital’s lawyers with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General proposed in late July expanding Hinckley’s conditional release.

Hinckley, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, would be granted two visits of 17 days and six visits of 24 days.  The hospital also asked for sole discretion to place Hinckley on convalescent leave after the eight trips.  “The hospital’s proposal for expanded conditions of release is premature and ill-conceived,” assistant U.S. attorneys Sarah Chasson and Colleen Kennedy said in court papers (PDF).

The proposal, prosecutors said, “fails to adequately address the risks presented by Hinckley’s clinical record.”  The government contends Hinckley’s record “reveals the persistence of several behaviors that universally have been recognized as risk factors for Hinckley’s future violence.”

Hinckley’s attorney, Barry William Levine, a Dickstein Shapiro partner in Washington, was not immediately reached for comment this morning.  Levine has said that Hinckley no longer poses a danger to himself or others.

Prosecutors concede that Hinckley’s mental health is better. But the government maintains that his core psychiatric diagnoses, including narcissism, remain.

When I teach insanity law to 1Ls, I often use John Hinckley's confinement as an example of the possibility that the confinement consequences of being found not guilty by reason of insanity can sometimes be worse for a defendant than a guilty verdict.  I suspect that Hinkley may have received a sentence of (much?) less than 30 years imprisonment for shooting President Reagan following a guilty verdict in the (pre-guidelines) 1980s or at the very least would have had a decent chance of being granted parole a few decades into his term even if he had gotten a longer prison sentence.  Instead, he has been confined to a mental hospital for now nearly three decades.  

Of course, spending decades in a mental hospital might be (much?) nicer than spending decades in prison, and Hinkley's treatment and development for his obvious mental issues might have been much better in the hospital than in prison.  Still, it is interesting to speculate what might have become of Hinckley if he accepted a plea of guilty rather than sought (and won) an insanity acquittal.  And, with similar types of issues abounding and already in the Jared Loughner Tucson shooting case, these issue remain very timely and relevant to defending persons with mental illness who commit terrible crimes.

November 10, 2011 at 09:38 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I suspect that in a regular prison Hinckley's chances of long term survival would have been very low. A guard, or prisoner or prisoner put up to it by a guard would have killed him long ago and Hinckley would be a forgotten footnote rather than an ongoing mess.

Also, wasn't federal parole already abolished by the time Hinckley shot Reagan? I thought that occurred in the late 1970s. If so I doubt he would be out now.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 10, 2011 11:16:51 AM

Soronel -- Nope, November 1, 1987. http://www.justice.gov/uspc/

Posted by: Jay | Nov 10, 2011 11:27:38 AM

i have to agree. he's done 30 YEARS! time for the prosecutors to find a new DEAD horse to beat!

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 10, 2011 12:44:06 PM

This is another county in the lawyer Twilight Zone, the insanity defense. The most dangerous people are defended and potentially released. Why? Because they generate massive government make work jobs.

This paranoid schizophrenic is far more dangerous than a contract killer. While he takes his medications, he really believes he should not have to, since there is nothing wrong with him. Once outside a structured setting, he would return to his prior psychotic state, and kill again.

These paranoid schizophrenics murder 2000 people a year. Thank the lawyer. It is the public that is crazy in accepting the self-serving policies of the lawyer. John Hinckley should have been executed after his fair trial.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 10, 2011 9:15:34 PM

hmm

"While he takes his medications, he really believes he should not have to, since there is nothing wrong with him. Once outside a structured setting, he would return to his prior psychotic state, and kill again."

at that point he's proved he won't follow instruction not even to stay sane...and put a bullet through his head and move on. ONE bite at the old apple is the only one allowed.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 11, 2011 1:10:07 PM

"I suspect that Hinkley may have received a sentence of (much?) less than 30 years imprisonment for shooting President Reagan..."

You should mention that three others were shot that day.

Posted by: Robert | Nov 11, 2011 2:03:44 PM

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