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The Hinckley Trial

In 1982, John W. Hinckley, who had attempted in 1981 to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, was acquitted of the crime by a District of Columbia court by reason of insanity. The enormous outrage after Hinckley’s acquittal led three states to drop the insanity defense entirely (Montana, Utah, and Idaho, joined by a fourth, Kansas, in 1995). Other states reformed their insanity defense statutes, by adopting the M’Naghten standard over the Model Penal code standard, by shifting the burden of proof from the state to the defense, by changing their commitment and release procedures, or by adopting a “Guilty but Mentally Ill” defense. In addition, the federal courts shifted from the ALI standard to a new law eliminating the Irresistible Impulse Test for insanity defenses in federal crimes.

Inside The Hinckley Trial