Insanity Defense Reform Act

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The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 was a law passed in the wake of public outrage after John Hinckley, Jr.'s acquittal for the Reagan assassination attempt. It amended the United States federal laws governing defendants with mental diseases or defects to make it significantly more difficult to obtain a verdict of not guilty only by reason of insanity.

Prior to the enactment of the law, the federal standard for "insanity" was that the government had to prove a defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt (assuming the insanity defense was raised). Under the act, the defendant had the burden of proving insanity by "clear and convincing evidence."[1] Furthermore, expert witnesses for either side were prohibited from testifying directly as to whether the defendant was legally sane or not,[1] but could only testify as to his mental health and capacities, with the question of sanity itself to be decided by the finder-of-fact at trial.[citation needed] The Act was held to be constitutional (and the change in standards and burdens of proof are discussed) in United States v. Freeman.[1]

It was criticized by psychologist Lawrence Z. Freedman for being ineffective: "If the attacker is rational mentally, stable emotionally, and fanatic politically, he will not be deterred. Nor will an irrational, affectively disturbed individual be deterred."[context?][2]


  1. ^ a b c 804 F.2d 1574 (11th Cir. 1986) (PDF) 
  2. ^ Lawrence Zelic Freedman (Mar 1983), The Politics of Insanity: Law, Crime, and Human Responsibility 4 (1), Political Psychology, p. 171178, JSTOR 3791182 

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