First of all, we probably need to refresh some memory of just who isJohn Hinckley?
On March 30, 1981, John Warnock Hinckley tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, who was then the President of the United States. As he left a Downtown Washington D.C. hotel, with a sizable entourage, including F.B.I & Secret Service constituency, Hinckey “laid-in-wait” to ambush the President and his companions. Judging from the injuries, a number of shots were apparently fired: Reagan, himself, as he was assisted for entry into his “Limo,” was hit in the side of his chest by a ricochet, that pierced to within inches of his heart. Police Officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and Press Secretary James Brady, were seriously wounded. Brady was so seriously and profoundly impacted, that his ultimate death in 2014, was attributed to the injuries he received on that day in 1981.
So, what has led to the release of Mr. Hinckley; and, to freely, and without constraint, and at home with his mother, to live without any lingering punishment?
Without a license, or other privilege to do so, the killing of one human being by another (a “Homicide) is, by definition, presumed to be an unlawful act. If one can be determined to have appreciated the wrongfulness of such an act, before it occurred, such an act would be considered to have been a “murder”. Murder is (and has been since the dawn of civilization) a crime. A “Crime” is defined as “an act for which there is a prescribed punishment.”
Now, this is not the same as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”; which is the ancient foundation for our civil law (which predated criminal law). Such “Civil Law” is designed to compensate or otherwise to reimburse a victim for a wrongful, and even neglectful act, that causes loss to the other; and entitles the “other” to seek to be “made whole” by the person that caused the injury or other loss.
Criminal Law rather seeks to not allow such generally and universally wrongful behavior to be left to private enterprise; but to consider such wrongful acts to have been a problem to be managed, and the repercussions from which to be prosecuted, by the public; and, as it acts in the form of the State.
For an act to be adjudged to have been a “Crime” when it occurred, there has to have been a concurrence of an evil act (in Latin, an “Actus Reus”) and an evil state of mind (“Mens Rea”). Recall, that normally, a homicide would probably be an evil act. But what if the actor’s mind was unable to adequately formulate or otherwise to maintain an evil state-of- mind? What if the actor’s state of mind, for instance, was unable to determine if a given act was right or wrong?
In such an event, and for such a person, the act could not legally be adjudged to have been a “crime.” Now, and even thought the act could not continue to be the subject of the Criminal Law proceeding, the subject actor could still be determined to have been, and continuing to be, a danger to himself and/or to others, if left unattended. So, there are special proceedings, and in special courts, to take care of mentally disturbed persons who portend such dangers; including, from time-to-time, to involuntarily “get-them-off-the-streets”; and, often into a situation to provide care and treatment for them; and, even to heal them. In the case of John Hinckely, it was ultimately determined —– and after decades of treatment —- that he had resolved into “full and sustained remission” of all symptoms; and simply no longer needed involuntary commitment for forced residential treatment.