Friday, April 28, 2006

Insanity Defense

The insanity defense is back in the news, as the Supreme Court considers whether Arizona’s restrictive version of the doctrine violates due process. What many people may not remember is that the movement to limit the insanity defense stemmed from public outrage at the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr., following his attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

The Reagan assassination attempt holds a special fascination for me as one of the earliest world events that I remember clearly. (The only two earlier are the deaths of Anwar Sadat and Elvis Presley, which perhaps reveal something about the development of my young mind.) I distinctly recall standing in my grandparents’ living room and watching as the TV endlessly repeated the images of Reagan waving, pandemonium breaking loose as the shots were fired, and Hinckley collapsing beneath a pile of Secret Service agents. It also helps that I live only blocks from the Hilton where it happened. Strangely, the hotel does not advertise its place in history, despite having a sign out front which could be modified easily to boast “Hilton Washington: The Place Where Reagan Got Shot.”

My fascination was stoked by a CBS online feature commemorating the shooting’s 25th anniversary this January. The page features unedited footage of the entire event, from before Reagan emerges until after Hinckley is taken away in a police car. (Click on “On Camera: Reagan Shot” under “Related Video.”) This is certainly footage that I had never seen before, complete with audio that was muted for its profanity when broadcast.

The new Supreme Court insanity case has reminded me of something that the 25th anniversary also brought to mind earlier this year: something my Criminal Law professor said on the first day of his course. What he said was this: “One of the times I felt most proud to be an American was the day John Hinckley was acquitted. Because on that day I learned that a man can shoot the President of the United States on national television, and a jury of citizens will acquit him if the law says he is not responsible for his actions.”


  1. Well, that's what happens when someone is unworthy of Jodie's love.

  2. Holy Prepuce

    I know you live a few blocks from the Hilton in DC and that you went to law school. I also know something about your politics. I'll figure out who you are soon enough and then I may finally get to know the foreskin of Jesus (do you keep it in your pocket or wear it over your penis?)

    Holy Admirer

  3. I remember that, too, only I was the little tyke who scandalized the classrom by wishing that Reagan would die.
    BTW - in 1996, I toured DC. We took a walking tour through the main sights. The hotel was one of the main sights on the tour. We all oooh'ed and aahhh'ed as the guide pointed it out and described how they had remodeled the hotel for greater security after that.

  4. Wow, your anonymous commenters are creepy.


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