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UNITED STATES v. HINCKLEY

November 28, 1989

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOHN W. HINCKLEY, JR.


June L. Green, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

JUNE L. GREEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This matter is before the Court on defendant John W. Hinckley, Jr.'s Motion for Relief Pursuant to 24 D.C. Code § 301 and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Upon consideration of defendant's motion, numerous pleadings of support and opposition filed by the interested parties and amici curiae,1 evidence presented at the hearing on the motion, the entire record, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court denies defendant's motion.

 I. Background

 Defendant John W. Hinckley, Jr., has been committed to the custody of St. Elizabeths Hospital (St. Elizabeths) since August 10, 1982, pursuant to an order of the Court and 24 D.C. Code § 301(d) (1981), having been found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges relating to an attempted assassination of the President and the shooting of three other individuals. See Findings and Order (Aug. 10, 1982). In committing the defendant to St. Elizabeths, the Court found specifically that Mr. Hinckley suffers from a severe, chronic mental disorder and, because of the mental disorder, is dangerous to himself and others. Id.

 Since his commitment, Mr. Hinckley has filed two motions with the Court seeking opportunities for live interviews with members of the news media -- opportunities which he has been denied since 1982. Tr. I at 33-41. *fn2" The first motion was filed August 28, 1984. In that pro se motion, filed pursuant to 24 D.C. Code § 301(k), Mr. Hinckley requested, inter alia, "the right to be interviewed by the news media." Motion for Relief Pursuant to D.C. Code § 301(k) (Aug. 28, 1984). Judge Barrington D. Parker held a full hearing on the motion on October 4, 1984, and subsequently entered an Order in which he found "complete justification and sound reasoning" for St. Elizabeths' Policy and Procedure Directive No. 89 ("Directive 89"), *fn3" including its prohibition against media interviews of Mr. Hinckley. See Findings and Order (Oct. 10, 1984).

 On August 4, 1989, defendant, by counsel, filed a Motion for Relief Pursuant to 24 D.C. Code § 301 and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution ("Defendant's Motion"). In his motion and supporting pleadings, Mr. Hinckley attacks Directive 89, alleging that it was promulgated solely to prevent his being interviewed by news media representatives in violation of his right of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Def. Brief II at 2. He further argues that the directive was aimed at him specifically, and represents "disparate and prejudicial treatment," Def. Brief I at 2, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Def. Brief II at 7. *fn4" Mr. Hinckley asserts that he has recovered greatly from his diagnosed condition, and that the relief he seeks will promote his full recovery. Declaration of John W. Hinckley, Jr. (Aug. 3, 1989), at 5. "The government of the United States is seeking to silence" him, he contends, thus making him "a political prisoner." Id. at 4.

 As relief, defendant asks the Court to find Directive 89 unconstitutional "on its face and in application," Def. Brief III at 10, and to order that St. Elizabeths permit him to be interviewed by "responsible members of the news media" *fn5" not more than twice a month, and at a time and place most convenient to the hospital. Def. Brief I at 3.

 Defendant's positions are supported and supplemented by briefs filed on behalf of two pair of amici curiae, composed of Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., and The Washington Post, see Order (Sept. 1, 1989); ABC Brief, and the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of the National Capital Area and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, see Order (Sept. 19, 1989); ACLU Brief. *fn6" Amici maintain that traditional First Amendment analysis shows Directive 89 to be a content-based restriction without a sufficiently compelling governmental interest underlying it. ACLU Brief at 8-22. Even when lower standards of First Amendment review are applied to this case, they argue that the restriction proves objectionable. See id. at 23-29; ABC Brief at 13-19.

 Amici add a challenge to the restriction as an abridgement of the news media and the public's First Amendment rights, alleging that it impermissibly places greater limitations on the media's access to St. Elizabeths' John Howard Pavilion ("JHP" or "John Howard") (the maximum security building) than on the general public's access to JHP, implicating the freedom of the press and principles of equal protection. ACLU Brief at 29-42; ABC Brief at 8-13.

 In support of St. Elizabeths' policy, the Court has heard from both the United States and the Commission on Mental Health Services of the District of Columbia ("CMHS"). *fn7" Both parties contend that the Court should limit its inquiry to an assessment of the reasonableness of the treatment decision reflected by the interview policy. U.S. Brief I at 5-8; CMHS Brief I at 7-9. Both maintain also that even under the applicable limited analysis, the policy passes constitutional muster. U.S. Brief I at 9-14; CMHS Brief I at 14-24. CMHS alleges, inter alia, that the entire matter is barred from reconsideration by principles of res judicata because of Judge Parker's October 10, 1984 ruling, CMHS Brief I at 3-6, and that the policy has been applied in a consistent manner to all JHP patients. Id. at 25-26.

 Pursuant to 24 D.C. Code § 301, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the matter on September 20, 25 and 26, 1989. *fn8" At the outset of the hearing, the U.S. urged the Court to deny the motion summarily and to forego a full hearing, *fn9" Tr. I at 3-5; see also U.S. Brief II at 1-2, and CMHS endorsed that position. Tr. I at 23. However, defense counsel persisted in demanding a hearing, proposing to "demonstrate that St. Elizabeth's [sic] Hospital . . . is not an objective, scientific organization, but is engaged in a vendetta against Mr. Hinckley." Tr. I at 6. The Court informed the defendant that such a hearing would be possible only if he were to waive his doctor-patient privilege and right of confidentiality as to matters implicated by the doctors' sealed reports and his sealed court and medical records. Tr. I at 12-20. This was necessary because the treatment justification upon which the government intended to rely in rebuttal of the defense theory and in support of Directive 89, as set forth in the government parties' pleadings, would require reference to records of Mr. Hinckley's treatment and confinement at St. Elizabeths. While not encouraging him to do so, the Court inquired as to whether Mr. Hinckley was willing to sacrifice his privacy for the sake of the motion. Tr. I at 12-20. After conferring with counsel, the defendant elected to waive his privilege and proceed. *fn10" Tr. I at 20-21. The resulting hearing consisted of the testimony of Mr. Hinckley and Dr. Raymond F. Patterson, the Administrator of Forensic Services of CMHS, as well as the presentation of documentary evidence by the defense and CMHS. Written closing arguments were submitted subsequently by Mr. Hinckley, CMHS and the U.S.

 II. Findings of Fact

 Mr. Hinckley testified in his own behalf in a calm and seemingly straightforward manner. He presented evidence that members of the treating staff at John Howard Pavilion had recommended, within the last two years, that he be placed in a less secure environment. See Def. Exh. 11. He noted that he had resided on a medium security ward at John Howard for several months in 1988, but that the balance of his commitment has been spent on various maximum security wards of the facility. Tr. I at 26-27; Def. Exh. 12. He cited the fact that he had not been on psychotropic medication for over three years, Tr. I at 25, and that he had "not been obsessed, fixated, preoccupied with [Jodie Foster (the subject of his obsession at the time of the shootings)] in five, six years." Tr. I at 92. Mr. Hinckley asserted that he has not violated Directive 89 since its inception in 1982, and has only rarely attempted to communicate with reporters through the mails, as the directive allows. Tr. I at 33-35. Explaining his desire to be interviewed by members of the news media, he insisted that his case is "unlike the other cases at John Howard Pavilion," requiring him to "have to deal with public opinion as far as [his] eventually getting out of the hospital, unfortunately." Tr. I at 56. His goal is to gain the attention of someone "not part of the hospital treating team or in any way associated with the government" who would be "impartial." Tr. I at 55.

  The sole witness called by the government parties *fn11" was Dr. Raymond F. Patterson, who has been Forensic Services Administrator of the Commission on Mental Health Services since 1987. Prior to that position, Dr. Patterson was the medical director of the John Howard Pavilion from 1983 to 1987. Tr. I at 96-97. From December 1983 to March 1989, Dr. Patterson served as Mr. Hinckley's family therapist, Tr. I at 100, and since 1983 he has been a member of Mr. Hinckley's treatment team. Dr. Patterson's experience and credentials are in the fields of general psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. He is thoroughly qualified in each specialty and his expertise in the treatment and diagnosis of mental illness was accepted by all parties and the Court. Tr. I at 100.

 Dr. Patterson testified that Mr. Hinckley's current diagnosis is psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified (as per the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III, revised"); major depression, recurrent, presently in remission; and narcissistic personality disorder, which is the predominant feature. Tr. I at 106. This personality disorder is characterized by "a tremendous sense of entitlement," or grandiosity, which is a symptom of narcissism. Tr. I at 106-07.

 Explaining the manifestation of this disorder in Mr. Hinckley, Dr. Patterson stated that at no time before or after the assassination attempt has Mr. Hinckley appeared to be a "raving," violent or drug dependent person; rather, the defendant appears calm and unremarkable in the John Howard environment. Tr. I at 105; Tr. II at 68-69. Dr. Patterson observed that it is difficult to determine what is truly going on within Mr. Hinckley's mind. The history of Mr. Hinckley's treatment suggests that this determination can be made through hindsight, as evidence of past thoughts emerges from the patient's writings or actions. Tr. I at 68-69; Tr. II at 33. In sum, the doctor found Mr. Hinckley to be "severely mentally ill" at the time of the hearing. Tr. I at 105.

 As a current example of Mr. Hinckley's narcissistic impulse, Dr. Patterson noted the defendant's preoccupation with presenting his case to the American public, rather than pursuing the appropriate legal channel to his release, a section 301 motion to the Court. Tr. I at 106-07. In the past, the disorder has been reflected by a pattern of "selective memory" by which Mr. Hinckley seeks to avoid confrontation with the truth of past events. Tr. I at 108. The treating physicians are uncertain whether to characterize this behavior as delusion or deliberate lying, but Dr. Patterson maintained that the habit was evident even in Mr. Hinckley's response to cross-examination at the hearing. Tr. I at 108-09.

 Dr. Miller's letter report indicates that in 1987 he found Mr. Hinckley to be considerably improved, having made "steady and continuing progress" since 1983. U.S. Exh. 1 at 3. The doctor found this to be particularly true because Mr. Hinckley had been "free of" his "preoccupation" with Jodie Foster "for at least three years;" in fact, Dr. Miller wrote, the defendant had described his former thoughts as "silly," and his behavior as "living in a fantasy." U.S. Exh. 1 at 1. In addition, Mr. Hinckley was enjoying a normal relationship with a former St. Elizabeths patient, who is now his fiancee. U.S. Exh. 1 at 6. The report notes that ward staff considered Mr. Hinckley "one of the best functioning patients on the ward," id. at 4-5, and that he considered the patient's psychosis and depression to be in remission. Id. at 8. Despite his findings that Mr. Hinckley was not displaying psychotic-like features, had no grandiose preoccupations, no longer needed to be "the center of attention" and was "presently quest[ing] anonymity," Dr. Miller still felt it appropriate, albeit to a diminished extent, to diagnosis Mr. Hinckley's illness as narcissistic personality disorder. See U.S. Exh. 1 at 8.

 Three factors weigh heavily in the Court's consideration of Dr. Miller's report. First, the report was two and a half years old at the time of the hearing. That means it lacked information and insights developed during the last quarter of Mr. Hinckley's total commitment period. Both common sense and the radical changes in Mr. Hinckley's condition over similar previous periods in this overall timespan (as noted in Dr. ...


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