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Crime File: Insanity Defense

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This video cassette, number 18 in the Crime File series, delineates the issues associated with the insanity defense, with a particular focus on the John Hinckley, Jr., case. Three panelists are questioned by the moderator regarding the parameters of the insanity defense as it has been used and has recently been redefined in some States.
In presenting background information on the insanity defense, the Hinckley verdict is reviewed along with public reaction to it. The successful use of the insanity defense in a Maryland case is also examined (Henry Hudson killed four members of his family). The three-member panel discusses some of the issues raised by these cases and the use of the insanity defense in general. The panel consists of Professor Norval Morris, University of Chicago Law School; D. Lowell Jensen, Associate Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice; and Dr. Jonas Rappeport, Baltimore, Md. Rappeport comments on the District of Columbia standard for legal insanity that applied in the Hinckley case, and the thrust of the psychiatric testimony for both the prosecution and the defense is compared. The conditions for Hinckley's release from the hospital are also noted. Jensen outlines recent changes in Federal law on the insanity defense: (1) the defense has the burden of proving the defendant was legally insane at the time of the crime; and (2) the defendant must have a severe mental disease or defect that rendered him/her incapable of recognizing the wrongfulness of the act at issue. Morris argues for limiting legal insanity to those persons whose mental illness makes them incapable of having the intent to kill. Rappeport counters that any intent formed out of a diseased mind should not be legally judged a criminal intent but rather the product of a sickness that should be treated and not punished. Rappeport supports the kinds of measures used in Maryland to ensure that dangerous insanity acquittees are not released from the mental hospital until their behavior and mental perceptions no longer make them a public threat.

Date Published: January 1, 1984