“How, people ask, can you shoot four people, one of them a President, and ever see the light of day again? If any act requires permanent confinement, isn’t it this one? The answer should comfort us, not terrify us: the rule of law applies to everyone, even the notorious. (Edited to add: or, at least, it ought to.)..
Is John Hinckley, Jr. dangerous to society? Doctors don’t think so after 35 years, and he’s successfully completed many outside visits and excursions to date. Is it dangerous to have a legal norm that the gravely mentally ill who commit violence may eventually be released? I doubt 35 years of forced treatment and confinement is the sort of leniency that leads anyone to violence. What about exceptions to the rule of law? If we ignore the rules and evidence because a particular person is sufficiently notorious, because of our gut, how dangerous is that?”
—–Popehat lawyer/blogger Ken White, in a post explaining why the outrage of some over the imminent release of John Hinckley, Jr. is one more example of the public and the news media being willing to jettison the basic principles of American justice because it seem right.
(Answer: Very dangerous indeed.)
I admire Ken for his post (as I do for most of his posts) because first, it is extremely timely, with both conservatives and progressives itching to jail various individuals—cops, Hillary Clinton– who they just know deserve to be in prison, and thinking that’s justice. Second, Ken was much nicer in his explanation than I would have been.
I mostly missed this controversy, in part because it doesn’t seem to me that it should be controversial to anyone with the level of comprehension of our criminal justice system that a mature, educated and responsible citizen should have. Where’s the controversy? Hinckley wasn’t found guilty of trying to assassinate President Reagan and wounding him and three others in the process. He was acquitted, because he was so crazy that under the insanity defense, he was found to lack the necessary mens rea to find him culpable for his own acts. He wasn’t sentenced to spend all this time in a mental hospital as punishment, but as treatment. Now that doctors have found him sane, of course they are letting him out. He committed no crime, in the eyes of the law, and sane people who have not been convicted of crimes get to be free, like you and me.
What’s so hard about that?
Well, it is hard for some people, and Ken is remarkably clear and patient in explaining why, as he says, we should be comforted that a Hinckley is still protected by the rule of law.
I won’t blame Jodie Foster if she isn’t comforted, though. That’s a lot to ask.