THE INSANITY DEFENSE AND THE TRIAL OF JOHN W. HINCKLEY, JR. by Lincoln Caplan

THE INSANITY DEFENSE AND THE TRIAL OF JOHN W. HINCKLEY, JR.

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Caplan's slight volume--expanded from a New Yorker report--alternates between an account of the John Hinckley trial (with emphasis on psychiatric-expert testimony) and a brief history of the insanity-defense in US law (with an argument for its continued use). As for the trial, there's not much here that wasn't in detailed newspaper accounts at the time: Caplan recaps the testimony about Hinckley's mental-illness/family history; he summarizes the ""expert disagreements"" from defense witnesses (who diagnose schizophrenia) and prosecution experts (who argue for a non-psychotic personality disorder); most interestingly, there's the testimony of Dr. David Bear, whose neurological evidence (CAT-scans suggesting schizophrenia) was eventually allowed to be shown to the jury. And Caplan's sporadic attempts at irony (some sarcasm about the judge) and dramatization (""the defendant's parents cast an emotional spell"") are flat, uneasy, unfocused. The introduction to the insanity-defense controversy is somewhat better: Harvard Law grad Caplan sketches in the shifting law--from the M'Naghten and Durham rules to the current Brawner standard (not guilty if unable to ""appreciate"" the wrongfulness of the crime); he quotes from experts both pro and con; he emphasizes the rarity of the insanity-defense, its infrequent success, the relative good-results for acquitees who are released after psychiatric incarceration. (See David Abrahamsen's The Mind of the Accused, 1983, for a more vivid sense of the range of insanity-defense cases.) And Caplan winds up arguing heatedly, in a civil-liberties vein, against the recent trend back to the tougher M'Naghten rule--though it's not clear that the ""rules"" have had much to do with the outcomes (often subjective/emotional/tactical) of most insanity-defense trials. Competent reportage-cum-primer--but not in the same league for drama or issue-confrontation with Richard Harris' similarly structured case-studies.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Godine