Bobbitt Acquittal Swings Spotlight Back on Insanity Defense With AM-Bobbitt Trial Bjt
Jan. 22, 1994
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lorena Bobbitt's acquittal Friday is sure to return the controversial plea ''not guilty by reason of insanity'' to the spotlight it attracted when presidential assailant John Hinckley was acquitted 12 years ago.
A Virginia jury found that Mrs. Bobbitt was temporarily insane when she cut off her husband's penis. She was ordered detained for psychiatric testing to determine whether she poses a danger to society.
She then may be a free woman, or her involuntary detainment might be extended.
Hinckley, who also invoked the insanity defense, was acquitted in 1982 of attempting to kill President Ronald Reagan even though millions of Americans witnessed the shooting countless times on videotape.
Hinckley has been locked away in a mental hospital since, but his case touched off a tidal wave of state and federal legislation aimed at closing what many critics considered a criminal justice loophole.
In the past dozen years, many states have adopted ''guilty but insane'' laws that make it more likely even those found to have been mentally ill when they committed their crime will serve some prison time if they ever regain sanity.
And a 1983 Supreme Court decision said people found not guilty by reason of insanity may be confined to mental hospitals for a longer time than they would have spent in prison if convicted.
In that case, the court upheld the indefinite confinement of a Washington, D.C., man who then had been held in a mental hospital for seven years after being charged with stealing a coat.
The insanity defense usually entails a theory that a defendant is so mentally impaired that he or she is not criminally responsible.
Lost in much of the debate over the Hinckley case is the fact that the defense rarely works.
Some famous examples of unsuccessful insanity pleadings:
-In 1963, Jack Ruby pleaded insanity after he killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed assassin of President John F. Kennedy. A jury convicted Ruby of murder ''with malice,'' a charge that carried the death penalty.
-In 1968, Sirhan Sirhan pleaded ''diminished responsibility'' for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
-In 1972, Arthur Bremer pleaded insanity after shooting Alabama Governor George Wallace. The jury convicted him after deliberating for 90 minutes.