In the wake of Jared Lee Loughner’s attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, experts believe that Loughner’s attorneys will seek an acquittal for their client by reason of insanity.
In what will be an incredibly high profile case with 24/7 media coverage, the insanity defense is poised to yet again receive harsh public criticism. If used, the Arizona shooting trial could rival the most infamous insanity-defense case to date: the Hinckley verdict. Then, a majority of Americans polled after the verdict felt that the courts had let a guilty man off the hook, and the public outrage spurred Congress to pass the Insanity Defense Reform Act, tightening federal standards of proof.
While this case defined the insanity plea going forward, there are many other notorious cases. Here, we summarize the most significant cases from the insanity defense’s origins in 1843 to how it has evolved in the post-Hinckley era: