Insanity Defense A Tough Sell For Loughner Twelve days after the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., the first charges have been filed against Jared Loughner. Experts say his strongest argument, an insanity defense, could be difficult to use at the federal level — and even tougher in a state court.
NPR logo

Insanity Defense Could Be A Tough Sell For Loughner

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133057658/133071536" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Insanity Defense Could Be A Tough Sell For Loughner

Insanity Defense Could Be A Tough Sell For Loughner

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133057658/133071536" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Over the next few minutes, we're going to hear about the latest legal developments coming out of the shootings in Tucson. Jared Loughner has now been indicted by a federal grand jury for the attempted assassination of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and attempted murder of two of her aides. Arizona prosecutors may yet add state charges of their own but the initial focus will be on the federal case. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that for Jared Loughner, an insanity defense would be a tough sell at the federal level - and even tougher in a state court.

CARRIE JOHNSON: Things got a lot more difficult for defendants who wanted to plead insanity after John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago this March. The outcry was so great that Congress changed federal law.

MONTAGNE: The defense now has to prove by clear and convincing evidence, which is an extremely high burden, that the defendant did not understand the wrongfulness of his conduct.

JOHNSON: That's Barry Boss. He's defended clients who say they're too sick to be held responsible for their actions.

MONTAGNE: And that's a very difficult thing to establish because even in the most delusional people, there is often some evidence that they did things to avoid getting caught.

JOHNSON: And that they took lots of steps to carry out their mission.

F: That kind of detail could help prosecutors convince a jury that Loughner wasn't legally insane.

L: They don't like excuses.

MONTAGNE: People out in the community really reject mental health defenses. They don't like them; they don't buy them.

JOHNSON: Legal experts say it's even harder to win an insanity defense in Arizona than in the federal system because the U.S. Supreme Court limited the kind of evidence that defendants could present in an Arizona case back in 2006.

MONTAGNE: The process involves a review by a special committee, and Attorney General Eric Holder would make the ultimate decision. Again, here's legal expert Barry Boss.

MONTAGNE: The bottom line is, even if you can't get to the point where you can succeed upon an insanity defense, you will create mitigating evidence that can be used to argue against the death penalty. A realistic goal in a case like this, from a defense perspective, is to save Loughner's life.

JOHNSON: That's the way it was with the Oklahoma City bombing. Aitan Goelman worked on that federal case back in 1995.

MONTAGNE: The D.A. in Oklahoma City said from the beginning that, you know, he planned to - whatever happened in the federal case, to prosecute the perpetrators in Oklahoma state court because out of the 168 people murdered in that crime, there was only federal jurisdiction over the eight federal agents.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.