John Hinckley Jr

Was Hinckley a miscarriage of justice?

This is from a post I wrote in response to the question of whether or not the finding that John Hinckley Jr. being found insane was a miscarriage of justice. I approach it more from the political and moral aspects of our modern legal foundations, enjoy! (this was a controversial post)

From what I can gather, John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. claims to have been obsessed with Jody Foster and wanted to get her attention. From a criminological perspective, Hinckley’s actions are not terribly surprising if you consider Hinckley to be in a category alongside stalkers. Consider for example Ricardo López, who was obsessed with singer Bjork. Lopez was so delusional that he tried to kill Bjork using a mailed acid bomb and proceeded to commit suicide. He went so far as to create a video diary detailing his plans to kill Bjork, by viewing these tapes it is evident that he believed what he was doing was entirely rational.

Before I answer the question of whether or not a miscarriage of justice occurred, I would like to preface by saying I stand by my views of proportionality being an entirely man made concept. Moreover, the concept of “not guilty by reason of insanity” is a relatively new concept in human history and is by no means a universal concept amongst nations. In fact, the entire defense does not even originally have roots in being the will of the people, but was rather a result of a common law magistrate.

I stand from a Kantian viewpoint and do not believe there would be anything wrong with the jailing or execution of a person deemed insane from a moral standpoint (Braswell, McCarthy, McCarthy,2008). Guilt can be objective and the law would not be entirely defective to operate from this standpoint (if not slightly draconian); however, the inclusion of mens rea interjects grace and mercy. This is not a negative, I would instead view this as positive, a sign of optimism and good faith displayed by the human race toward the less desirable elements of society.

Finally, as to the question of whether or not a miscarriage of justice existed: I do not believe a miscarriage of justice occurred because Hinckly stood trial before a jury where they analyzed expert testimony from psychologists and/or psychiatrists. It was entirely up to the jury how much weight each testimony should carry and when all testimony was concluded they felt that they believed Hinckly was in all likelihood mentally incompetent and the legislature had decided the mentally incompetent should not be placed in prison (Samaha, 2008).

It would seem, however, that the public or legislature of the time believed a grievous injustice had occurred and so according to their right to self govern, changed laws surrounding the defense of “not guilty by reason of insanity” (Samaha, 2008).

On a side note, I am rather surprised that Hinckly didn’t file a civil suit against the manufacturer of the “exploding bullets” he purchased. It would seem he would have a fairly good, if not entirely reprehensible, case.

-Isaac Johnson

Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2008). Justice, crime, and ethics, 6th ed.. Newark: Andersen Publishing.

Samaha, J. (2008). Criminal Law, 9th ed. Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth.