Mandatory Minimums

Good Thing John Hinckley Jr. Only Shot the President. If He Sold Drugs, He Might Still Be Locked Up.

Attempted murder? 35 years in a hospital. Nonviolent drug charges? Life in prison.


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John Hinckley Jr. will be released from a psychiatric hospital after being confined there for 35 years for the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981.

Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity at his trial, is finally rehabilitated and unlikely to commit further violence, according to a federal judge.

Some conservatives are outraged that the man who tried to kill the president is now free. Popehat's Ken White argues instead that Hinckley's release is a triumph of the rule of law:

People are outraged. Why wouldn't they be? Assassinations have cast a grim pall over American history. President Reagan was well-liked and is nearly revered in retrospect. The assassination attempt was a formative event in the memory of many people my age. 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 lenity 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?

I agree with White. But on a different note, Hinckley's release had me thinking about Luis Rivera, Barbra Scrivner, and Antoinette Frink: the three nonviolent offenders who received a cumulative 185+ years in prison for far lesser crimes than shooting the president. All three were convicted of nonviolent drug charges. Rivera was convicted of trafficking cocaine and was sentenced to life in prison. He served 30 years of that sentence—nearly as much time as Hinckley.

Rivera and Scrivner clearly broke the law. (Frink's case is less clear—she denies having any knowledge that her auto dealership was being utilized by drug dealers.) But were their mistakes serious enough to cost them years of their lives? Did they deserve to rot in prison, hoping that their sentences might one day be commuted? (Eventually, all three were released.)

The problem, of course, is that mandatory minimum sentences prevent judges from using their discretion. They are forced to to hand out ridiculous sentences to people convicted of drug crimes.

That's why bipartisan criminal justice reform is so desperately needed. Unfortunately, efforts to pass legislation have stalled this year.

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  1. Hinckley’s release is a triumph of the rule of law:

    In the same sense that jury nullification of murder charges against Klansmen was a triumph of the rule of law, so yes

    1. The jury’s acquittal of Ramos and Cicinelli in the beating death of Kelly Thomas?

      Another ” triumph in the rule of law”.

    2. Ahem. He did not say “Hinckley’s acquittal is a triumph of the rule of law,” if that is what you find objectionable. (And mind you, biased nullification is an injustice that goes way beyond simply being incorrect in a verdict, which is at most what happened in Hinckley’s case. But even that doesn’t matter.)

    3. That isnt jury nullification. They didnt find laws againstvmurder unjust, they just chose not to apply them.

      1. That is the essence of jury nullification. They chose to decide on fact rather than law, which is the “rule of law” as it applies to the responsibility of a jury.

        If a jury decided to acquit in a cop killing because cops aren’t being held accountable in killing citizens is it not nullification because they still think murder is morally wrong?

  2. Jodie Foster can’t be all to happy. Hope she doesn’t end up in well in this dudes basement.

    1. Jodie showed up at essentially every stage of the progressive loosening of his confinement to argue passionately against it.
      Maybe it was the progressive realization that Jodie is no one to be saying anything against another’s mental health that came to lead to his release.

    2. “Hey, where’s my new issue of Auto Trader?”

    3. How long before she applies for a carry permit in California?

  3. “Doctors don’t think so…”


  4. I’m sure that most of his constitutional rights have been removed for life. So he’s not exactly free.

  5. That’s why bipartisan criminal justice reform is so desperately needed.

    If we could get the Constitution and rule of law restored, that would be a good start.

  6. Suave Soave unleashes the brain comet. Freedom is a subset of a wandering twirling ladder routine floundering against the blood-rasping shrieks of motherfucking spirits driven from the will of those crying to soar with eagles.

  7. To be fair, Hinckley was *acquitted,* and those other guys were *convicted.*

    (and the law regarding insanity defenses has been tightened in the U.S. and various states, in response in part to the Hinckley verdict)

    1. Although Hinckley was legitimately nuts.

  8. Speaking of cray cray has everyone seen the trailer for Split?

  9. John Hinckley Jr had a bit of a song writing carer while confined in St Elizabeth’s.
    He wrote the lyrics to:

    I Desire

  10. Good Thing John Hinckley Jr. Only Shot the President. If He Sold Drugs, He Might Still Be Locked Up.

    Well, to be fair, it was only a Republican President. Which is the moral equivalent of shooting Hitler. So he probably shouldn’t have been locked up at all.

    1. If progressives seriously believe half of their rhetoric about Reagan then John Hinckley just missing Reagan’s heart is one of the greatest tragedies in American history.

      1. Most believe if Reagan had a heart, Hinkley would have killed him.

    2. Jodi Foster had to be protected.

  11. In all seriousness, the guy was actually insane. Mentally illness sucks and if he’s actually gotten better to where he is no longer a threat to society letting him live a more normal life is a just thing to do.

    For crimes such as this the goal should be rehabilitation rather than punishment.

    1. That’s a nice sentiment, but how does releasing him provide the Reagan family the closure that the justice system exists to provide?

      1. That’s not why the justice system exists…

    2. In all seriousness, the guy was actually insane.

      As decided by a jury after poor instructions by the judge. Because “insane” has no meaning outside of the actions of a court. It isn’t a medical, much less a scientific, term.

      Hinckley wasn’t incarcerated in a pseudo-medical prison to rehabilitate him. He was locked up because he was (and is) seriously fucking dangerous. The appropriate consequence for his actions should’ve been swift execution

    3. I once listened to a talk by Park Elliott Dietz (the forensic shrink who was an expert witness for the government in Hickley’s case), and he made a pretty good argument that Hinkley wasn’t crazy enough to meet the standards for acquittal on grounds of insanity. The thing that stuck in my mind was how apparently, the shrinks who examined him kept asking questions aimed at determining whether Hinckley had symptons of schizophrenia, and that they were so obvious about it that it was a piece of cake for Hinkley to figure out what the “correct” answer was, and then to give it (“Yeah, I totally had the feeling when Reagan looked at me that he was trying to send me a personal message. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”).

  12. I find absolutely nothing objectionable about this post.
    (kicks tin can)


    i think the idea that he’s been reprogrammed in isolation and released in order to go after Trump should be added to spice it up a bit.

    At the very least it makes for a pretty good movie pitch. (“We’re talking The Manchurian Candidate meets The Dead Zone…. plus, we’ve talked to Jodie and she’s cool with a cameo..”)

    1. I find everything objectionable about this post. I totally object to the so-called “rule of law”. WTF would have happened to Hinckley under common law if he killed the king in an attempt to impress some milk maid who spurned him? At the very least they would’ve drawn and quartered his ass.

  13. Attempted murder is attempted murder. Why should it matter what political office the victim holds?

  14. One needn’t sell even drugs to get life: one need only run a website that facilitates others to transact in drugs and proclaim defiance of the state to get life (Ross William Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts).

  15. He unleashed the Brady Campaign on the world. Lock him up forever!

    In all seriousness, I’m having a hard time working up any outrage over this.

  16. Nice apples to oranges comparison you got there, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that anyone acquitted of a drug-selling charge on grounds of insanity would have been released much earlier than Hinckley.

    1. And that if Hinckley had been *convicted* of shooting Reagan, they’d probably still be piping sunlight into whatever hold he was being warehoused. (They finally let Sarah Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme out, but neither of them had actually managed to shoot Ford.)

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