Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

Greater Freedom and John Hinckley Jr. in the Driver's Seat


Psychiatrists believed Hinckley made significant improvement in his mental state so he was allowed to leave the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., for visits in 1999.

St Elizabeths Hospital
St Elizabeths Hospital
In April 2000, he was allowed unsupervised furloughs, but the privilege was revoked that May when guards discovered a smuggled book about Jodie Foster in his room—Hinckley is prohibited from having any material about the actress.

A court hearing was held in June 2007 to consider Hinckley's requests for greater freedom. At that time, Hinckley was already allowed four-night visits to his family home in Virginia. Officials at St. Elizabeths supported Hinckley's bid for greater freedom and submitted a proposal to the court outlining the oversight its doctors believed he should have if allowed more time outside the institution.

Hinckley sought to extend his home visits to two weeks and be allowed to apply for a driver's license.

Doctors testifying on Hinckley's behalf said that both his psychosis and his depression were in remission. They also said more freedom would help him develop the social skills he needed to function appropriately in the free world.

An article by Matt Apuzzo in USA Today reported that doctors testifying for the government "said the hospital's proposal was too vague and left Hinckley with too much unstructured time in the community without appropriate oversight and counseling."

U. S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled that Hinckley's visits would be extended to six days but refused to rule on Hinckley's additional requests. Friedman explained, "The reasons the court has reached this decision rest with the hospital, not with Mr. Hinckley. Unfortunately, the hospital has not taken the steps it must take before any such transition can begin."

Two years later, in June 2009, the same judge found that the hospital had taken the proper steps to allow Hinckley the proposed transition. He made this ruling despite assertions by government witnesses that Hinckley still presented a danger to the community. A CNN Justice article noted that prosecutors contended that Hinckley "continues to maintain inappropriate thoughts of violence." The pointed to a journal that hospital officials had asked Hinckley to keep as showing that his relations with women were alarming.

Hinckley had recently engaged in sexual relations with two women, one of whom had bi-polar disorder and the other of whom was in a long-term relationship with someone else. He had also been dating two other women. Prosecutors argued that these relationships indicated an "increased risk for violence due to depression or due to a request to act out to demonstrate his love for a woman."

Prosecutors were also concerned because Hinckley had recently re-recorded a song he had written before the assassination attempt entitled Ballad of an Outlaw that they described as "reflecting suicide and lawlessness." However, according to CNN Justice, "Hospital officials said he was trying to take responsibility for his past by recording the song again."

Judge Friedman ruled that Hinckley would be permitted to visit his mother more frequently, spend more time away from the hospital and get a driver's license. Judge Friedman stated, "Hinckley will not be a danger to himself or to others under the conditions proposed by the hospital."


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