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Abstract

On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, the thirty-ninth President of the United States. More than fifteen months after his arraignment Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" to each of the thirteen counts with which he was charged. Hinckley's successful use of the insanity defense has rekindled a debate that has raged for centuries concerning the rationality and propriety of the insanity defense. The controversy stems not only from the fact that the insanity defense is seldom used except in grievous felonies, specifically homicide, or spectacular crimes such as Hinckley's, but also from the manner in which the defense assails society's notion of the individual's moral accountability for his actions. Indeed it was during a special session of the House of Lords following public outcry over the acquittal of Daniel M'Naghten in the murder of Edward Drummond, that the famous insanity test of M'Naghten's Case was articulated.

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