It is March 30, 1981. United States President Ronald Reagan is walking out of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. toward the presidential limousine. All of a sudden six gunshots ring out in the quiet afternoon air. John Hinckley, Jr. is holding a .22 caliber revolver and has his mind set on assassinating the president. He can’t get out a seventh shot before he is tackled by Secret Service. Press secretary James Brady, police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Reagan have all been wounded.
Hinckley was charged with 13 offenses and during the trial the defense attorney argued the insanity defense. He claimed Hinckley was insane and wasn’t aware his actions were wrong. Hinckley was then found not guilty by reason of insanity.
More recently, Josh Lee Shaddon of Albany, NY stabbed his mother to death Oct. 23, 2009. Dec. 8 of this year he was found guilty of first-degree murder, but was given a lesser sentence due to insanity.
The insanity defense has been around for nearly 200 years and has grown and evolved ever since. In a society with equal rights for everyone, the consequences for those who break the law should be equal too. If everyone has the right to purchase a handgun, everyone should have the same punishment if they choose to use that gun to kill someone. People who are considered insane should get the same punishment as those who aren’t.
The first problem with the insanity defense is that the victims are constantly overlooked. Whether a murder committed is made by someone who is sane or considered insane, the same outcome happens. If someone kills your family member, no matter if he or she is sane or not, it does not change the fact that the victim is dead and justice needs to be served.
It seems rather ludicrous that a victim’s family should be accepting of the insanity defense. Imagine the victim’s family saying in an interview, “It’s OK that he or she killed someone I love because they are insane.” Actions require consequences.
Another problem with the insanity defense is the broad definition of insanity. According to Legal-Dictionary.TheFreeDictionary.com, insanity is defined as mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her or his affairs due to psychosis or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Insanity is distinguished from low intelligence or mental deficiency due to age or injury.
There is no disease called “insanity,” therefore there is no diagnosis. The consideration of whether someone is insane or not is subjective. “The person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality.” Some people believe the Loch Ness Monster is real, are they insane? A lot of people worship a higher being they cannot physically see, does that mean they are insane too? What is fantasy to some is completely real to others.
With this definition of insanity it seems like anyone who commits a felony can be considered insane. The solution is simple: Everyone who commits a felony by breaking a law should be punished accordingly. It should not matter whether they are sane, insane, Christian or imaginative. Equal rights means equal punishment.