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John Hinckley Trial: 1982

Stalking Gunman Fires Six Shots, Just How Mad?

Defendant: John W. Hinckley, Jr.
Crime Charged: Attempted murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Lon Babby, Gregory Craig, Vincent Fuller, and Judith Miller
Chief Prosecutors: Roger Adelman and Robert Chapman
Judge: Barrington Parker
Place: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trial: April 27-June 21, 1982
Verdict: Not guilty by reason of insanity

SIGNIFICANCE: The insanity plea has always been a gray area with lawyer and layperson alike, difficult to plead, often difficult to accept. But the outrage caused by this trial brought into question the very existence of insanity as a defense.

The facts were never in dispute. On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley, Jr., fired six shots at President Ronald Reagan and his entourage outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. The President, Press Secretary James Brady, police officer Thomas Delahanty, and Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy were hit. All recovered. Hinckley was arrested at the scene and later charged with attempted murder.

With the abortive assassination having been captured on videotape and replayed endlessly on television, Hinckley's trial was expected to be a foregone conclusion—until the defense attorneys announced their intention to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In this respect they were greatly aided by Judge Barrington Parker's decision to hear the case under federal procedural rules, which meant that the prosecution would bear the burden of proving Hinckley's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas, under local rule, the onus would have fallen on the defense attorneys prove their client insane. This was an important distinction.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988