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The John Hinckley Trial


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The Trial of John Hinckley
by  Douglas Linder  (c) 2002
The verdict of "not guilty" for reason of insanity in the 1982 trial of John Hinckley, Jr. for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan stunned and outraged many Americans.  An ABC News poll taken the day after the verdict showed 83% of those polled thought "justice was not done" in the Hinckley case.  Some people--without much evidence--attributed the verdict to an anti-Reagan bias on the part the Washington, D. C. jury of eleven blacks and one white.  Many more people, however, blamed a legal system that they claimed made it too easy for juries to return "not guilty" verdicts in insanity cases--despite the fact that such pleas were made in only 2% of felony cases and failed  over 75% of the time.  Public pressure resulting from the Hinckley verdict spurred Congress and most states into enacting major reforms of laws governing the use of the insanity defense.

The Hinckley trial highlights the difficulty of a system that forces jurors to label a defendant either "sane" or "insane" when the defendant may in fact be close to the middle on a spectrum ranging from Star Trek's Mr. Spock to the person who strangles his wife thinking that he's squeezing a grapefruit. [CONTINUED]

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