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John Hinckley Released

John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Reagan in March 1981 but was found not guilty by reason of insanity, has been ordered released.  The judge, US District Judge Paul Friedman, found that Hinckley does not pose a danger to others.  One can only hope this prediction is true.  It didn't work out so well with Wendell Callahan.

The Hinckley verdict was not well received, and proved to be the spark for tightening up the insanity defense.  That defense is now seldom tried, and it almost never works.  It's not impossible to hoodwink a jury, but it's not that easy, either. 
The history of the insanity defense and its reform in light of the Hinckley verdict can be found here.  The most relevant passage is:

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.  

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