June 21, 1982. The Hinckley verdict was read. "NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY." The public outcry and backlash that followed the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr. by reason of insanity was tremendous and had far-reaching effects. Eighty percent of the insanity reforms that took place between 1978 and 1990 occurred shortly after the Hinckley verdict. Within a month of the trial's conclusion, committees of the House and Senate held hearings regarding use of the insanity defense. During the three years following the Hinckley acquittal, Congress and half of the states enacted changes in the insanity defense, all limiting use of the defense. Congress and nine states limited the substantive test of insanity; Congress and seven states shifted the burden of proof to the defendant, eight states supplemented the insanity verdict with a separate verdict of guilty but mentally ill (GBMI), and one state, Utah, abolished the defense outright. Congress passed revisions in the defense embodied in the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which reads:
"It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under any federal statute that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense."
The legislation changes the former approach by requiring a "severe" mental disease and eliminating the volitional aspect of the defense. The Act also reshapes the cognitive aspect of the insanity defense by replacing "unable to appreciate" with "lacks substantial capacity" to delineate boundaries between a total lack of understanding and partial comprehension.
"Guilty But Mentally Ill"
Twelve states in the aftermath of the Hinckley trial established a separate verdict of "guilty but mentally ill" (GBMI). Four of the twelve states that adopted the GBMI verdict did so because of the uproar over the Hinckley verdict. The consequence of rendering a GBMI verdict is conviction and a criminal sentence. A defendant will be evaluated by mental health authorities to determine whether psychiatric treatment is warranted under the circumstances. If such treatment is deemed necessary, the offender is hospitalized. If discharged, the offender is sent back to prison to serve the remainder of the sentence.
"The Burden of Proof Shifts"
Two-thirds of the states that recognize the insanity defense now place upon the defendant the burden of persuading t he jury that he or she was insane at the time of the offense, usually requiring proof by a preponderance of the evidence. A federal statute holds the defendant to an even higher standard, requiring proof of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.
"Limiting the Use of Expert Witnesses"
Because psychiatric testimony played a large role in Hinckley's trial and ultimate verdict, the reliability of using such testimony came under attack in the wake of the trial. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) issued a statement after the trial acknowledging public skepticism of "the nature and the quality of psychiatric testimony in insanity trials." The APA also stated that it would not oppose laws restricting the use of such testimony in insanity cases. In 1984, Congress enacted a statute stating that:
"No expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of a defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or a defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are for the trier of fact alone."
"Abolition of the Insanity Defense"
By 1986, three states had abolished the use of the insanity defense altogether. These states, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, continue to admit evidence of mental disorder for the restricted purpose of disproving mens rea, or, in other words, proving that a defendant did not possess the special knowledge or intent required for conviction under the charged offense. The American Medical Association supports the abolition of the insanity defense.