So John Hinckley is basically a free man

We’ve been watching the ongoing hearings involving would-be presidential assassin and Hollywood fan boy John Hinckley for some time now and I’ve always maintained some level of hope that it was typical legal wrangling with no real substance behind it. But it turns out I was wrong. His defense team prevailed through every stage of the game and we learned this week that he would be leaving his forced hospitalization to go live with family members. That has now happened. (ABC News)

A federal judge ruled in late July that the 61-year-old John Hinckley is not a danger to himself or the public and can live full-time at his mother’s home in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Hinckley had already been visiting Williamsburg for long stretches at a time and preparing for the full-time transition. He’ll have to follow a lot of rules while in Williamsburg, but his longtime lawyer Barry Levine says he thinks Hinckley will be a “citizen about whom we can all be proud.”

The fact that Barry Levine can stand in front of the cameras with a straight face and tell us that Hinckley will be a citizen about whom we can all be proud makes this the perfect example of a sick parody come to life. We all know what Hinckley did so I don’t need to recount the entire tragic tale again here. Was he crazy at the time? If you like… sure. Let’s say he was. But he was sane enough to obtain the materials he needed, plan out the attack and execute it. He was clearly capable of recognizing reality and navigating it sufficiently well to get the job done. And if he’d been just a tad better marksman the President of the United States would have been dead.

And yet our legal system contains enough loopholes to result in a situation where Hinckley not only survived, but will now live at home with his mom. Isn’t that nice? When we first found out this would be happening, Jim Geraghty described the situation as “ridiculous” and offered some timely reminders.

John Hinckley Jr. shot three people besides the president: White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, and Washington D.C. police officer Thomas Delahunty. Don’t let anyone tell you Hinckley didn’t kill anyone; the coroner ruled that Brady’s death was a homicide; his death, 33 years later, was caused by the injuries sustained when Hinckley shot him.

Four people shot including a president; one paralyzed and ultimately dying from the injuries. And Hinckley, ruled not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982, will soon walk the streets of Virginia a free man.

Could you see Lee Harvey Oswald being let out in 1998? Letting John Wilkes Booth out in 1900?

There are certain areas where I always wind up getting in trouble with some of my lawyer friends. The most common is when questions of the Fifth Amendment come up, particularly when the system winds up protecting the guilty more than the innocent. But the idea of “not guilty by reason of insanity” is another one. While there are obviously some individuals who are born with such debilitating mental problems that they can’t be held to the same standards as normal, functional adults, this fact is too often used as a dodge by criminals seeking to avoid punishment. And even if they aren’t faking it entirely, our definitions of insanity seem to be quite generous. It’s easy enough to say someone is “crazy” if they gun down five people outside of a presidential motorcade. What sane person would do that? But that doesn’t mean that they are unaware of what they’re doing.

Perhaps that was enough of an excuse to put the death penalty off the table for Hinckley (along with the fact that there were no immediate deaths in the aftermath of the shooting) but he still shot the President. At a minimum, you should have to stay in jail for that even if your doctors declare you “cured” later on. Jim Geraghty is right… this goes beyond ridiculous. It’s a travesty.


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