United States v. Hinckley

Decision Date17 November 1981
Docket NumberCrim. No. 81-306.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. John W. HINCKLEY, Jr.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


Charles F. C. Ruff, U. S. Atty., Roger M. Adelman, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., for United States.

Williams & Connolly, Vincent J. Fuller, Gregory B. Craig, Judith Miller, Lon Babby, Washington, D. C., for defendant.



The defendant John W. Hinckley, Jr. is charged in a multi-count indictment with attempted assassination of the President of the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 1751(c); assault on a federal officer—United States Secret Service agent, 18 U.S.C. § 111; use of firearm in commission of a federal offense, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and other District of Columbia Code offenses,1 all allegedly committed on March 30, 1981. The indictment was returned on August 24, 1981.

Counsel for the defendant have filed a number of pretrial motions, four of which are addressed in this Memorandum Opinion. Two motions seek to suppress statements, and any fruits thereof, made by Hinckley during the course of court-ordered examinations dealing with his competency to stand trial and the defendant's mental condition at the time of the alleged offenses and legal responsibility for the acts charged in the indictment. The orders were entered on March 31, and April 2, 1981. The remaining two are (1) a motion to suppress statements made by Hinckley to law enforcement officials on March 30, 1981, the day of his arrest; and (2) a motion to suppress certain documents seized from the defendant's cell in July, 1981 by correctional officers at the Federal Correctional Institution, Butner, North Carolina (Butner) where he was held as a pretrial detainee for mental evaluation.

Part I of this opinion presents an analysis of the legal issues arising out of the March 31st and April 2nd court-ordered examinations. Part II addresses the factual and legal issues arising from the statements made by Hinckley when he was arrested and the seizure of his documents by the correctional staff at Butner.

The Court determines that the appellate decisions of this jurisdiction provide solid support for the court-ordered evaluations and examinations. Accordingly, the defendant's challenges should be rejected.

As to the statements made by Hinckley at the time of his arrest and the seizure of certain personal papers and documents at Butner, the Court determines that the March 30 statements and the documents seized at Butner should be suppressed. The reasons for these conclusions are set out in the discussion which follows.




On March 31, 1981 Magistrate Arthur Burnett ordered an examination to determine Hinckley's competency to stand trial. The examination was conducted on April 1, 1981, by Dr. James L. Evans, a psychiatrist, who reported that the defendant was competent. On April 2, 1981 Chief Judge William B. Bryant issued an order for an examination to determine Hinckley's: (1) competency to stand trial; and (2) mental condition and legal responsibility for his actions on March 30, 1981. Under Judge Bryant's order the defendant was committed to Butner, where he underwent physical, psychiatric and a battery of psychological examinations. The examination was completed and a report submitted to the Court on July 29, 1981.

Defendant's counsel contend that the use of the examination by Dr. Evans, ordered pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4244,2 is strictly limited by the provisions of the statute to a determination of the defendant's competency to stand trial; and that use of any evidence from this examination on the issue of guilt in any trial on the substantive charges would violate the statutory limitation of section 4244.

Hinckley's counsel raise additional objections to the Butner examination: that the Court lacked authority to order a compulsory examination to ascertain the competency and legal responsibility for the alleged offenses, over the defendant's objections; that use of any statements obtained from the examination would violate Hinckley's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination; and that use of the statements —obtained in the absence of counsel —would violate his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

The government in opposition notes that the law in this circuit is well-settled that evidence from a section 4244 examination may be utilized at trial for the limited purpose of opposing an insanity defense. The government also argues that the Butner examination was plainly permissible and consistent with the Court's inherent authority to order an examination to determine competency and responsibility; that, because evidence from the examination would only be used to oppose an insanity defense rather than to establish guilt, it would not be incriminating within the terms of the Fifth Amendment privilege; and finally, that the Sixth Amendment creates no right to the presence of counsel at a defendant's examination by government or court-ordered psychiatrists.

Because the defendant's argument and rationale for suppressing statements arising from the March 31 competency examination are subsumed in the broader objections to the Butner examination, the latter will be considered and analyzed first, followed by a discussion of the challenge to the March 31 competency examination.


Chief Judge Bryant's April 2, 1981 order committing Hinckley to Butner provided in part that the examination be conducted and a report made to the Court as to:

Whether the defendant ..., at the time of the alleged criminal offenses, committed on or about March 30, 1981, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or lacked substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of law; and
Whether the defendant ..., at the time of the alleged criminal offenses, ... as a result of an abnormal mental condition was incapable of forming the requisite specific intent, if applicable, to commit the alleged criminal offense.

The provisions of the order are consistent with the current standard in this circuit applicable to the insanity defense. See United States v. Brawner, 471 F.2d 969 (D.C.Cir.1972). The dual purpose commitment order was based on three sources of authority: 18 U.S.C. § 4244, D.C. Code § 24-3013 and the Court's inherent power to order such an examination. Defendant alleges that none of these sources authorized the examination of his sanity at the time of the offense.

Section 4244 provides, in relevant part:

Whenever after arrest ... the United States Attorney has reasonable cause to believe that a person charged with an offense ... may be presently insane or otherwise so mentally incompetent as to be unable to understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense, he shall file a motion for a judicial determination of such mental competency of the accused .... The court shall cause the accused ... to be examined as to his mental condition by at least one qualified psychiatrist, who shall report to the Court .... No statement made by the accused in the course of any examination into his sanity or mental competency provided for by this section ... shall be admitted in evidence against the accused on the issue of guilt in any criminal proceeding. A finding by the judge that the accused is mentally competent to stand trial shall in no way prejudice the accused in a plea of insanity as a defense to the crime charged; such finding shall not be introduced in evidence on that issue nor otherwise be brought to the notice of the jury. (emphasis added)

Defendant argues that, since the statute, by its terms, only empowers an examination to determine competency, any evidence generated at Butner is not admissible on the responsibility question. Furthermore, he argues that section 4244's prohibition on the use of any evidence obtained in an examination against a defendant on the issue of guilt prohibits its use at a later trial. In so arguing, defendant contends that his capacity at the time of the offense is a component of guilt within the meaning of the provision.

Even the defendant acknowledges,4 however, that it has long been the rule in this circuit that section 4244 does not limit the use of evidence obtained in psychiatric examinations to a determination of competency. Section 4244's prohibition on the use of defendant's statements to establish guilt does not prevent their use in opposing a defendant's insanity defense. Only recently, Judge Spottswood Robinson, writing just prior to becoming Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Circuit, held that use of psychiatric testimony from a compelled examination was not inconsistent with section 4244's provision. United States v. Whitlock, 663 F.2d 1094, at 1106-1107 (D.C.Cir., 1980). Shortly thereafter, former Chief Judge Bazelon noted in his dissent in United States v. Byers, No. 78-1451, slip op. at 5-6, (D.C.Cir., Dec. 24, 1980), that "this circuit court has consistently interpreted § 4244 to permit the admission of defendant's statements to a government psychiatrist where they are relevant only to the issue of sanity." (footnote omitted). Accord, United States v. Bennett, 460 F.2d 872, 878-79 (D.C.Cir.1972); Edmonds v. United States, 260 F.2d 474, 476 (D.C.Cir.1958), cert. denied, 362 U.S. 977, 80 S.Ct. 1062, 4 L.Ed.2d 1012 (1960). And although United States v. Alvarez, 519 F.2d 1036 (3d Cir. 1975) and United States v. Malcolm, 475 F.2d 420 (9th Cir. 1973) suggest that the construction of "issue of guilt" in section 4244's ban on use of psychiatric evidence includes consideration of the insanity question, this is plainly not the rule in our circuit.5

Even without regard to the court's specific statutory authority, for more than twenty years it has been the rule in this circuit that the "federal courts have inherent...

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