White House Press Secretary James Brady died last Monday, murdered by John Hinckley.
Younger readers may shrug - somebody I've never heard of was killed by someone else I don't care about. Happens every day.
For the older or more politically aware, there may be an uncertain head-scratching. Wait a minute - don't I remember that name? Wasn't James Brady shot a long time ago? Was he just murdered again?
According to the Virginia medical examiner, yes he was. James Brady was shot in 1981 by John Hinckley, a lunatic who was attempting to assassinate President Reagan to impress the then-famous actress Jodie Foster. Mr. Reagan was badly injured but survived and carried on with leading the Reagan era.
Mr. Brady's injuries were far worse and he was severely handicapped for the remainder of his life. That didn't stop him from dedicating the rest of his life to try to take away Americans' 2nd Amendment rights. Despite his previous reputation as a high-level Republican, Mr. Brady's personal disaster led him to the false liberal conclusion that gun crimes can be prevented by stripping everyone of guns.
They can't, of course, as witness Chicago, which has the strictest gun-control laws of anywhere in the nation. These laws all but ban all law-abiding citizens from having guns. Nevertheless, more people were shot over this past July 4th weekend than in Damascus, Syria, which is an official war zone.
In spite of these unarguable facts, for a long time it seemed that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence would succeed in the beloved long-term leftist goal of disarming all of us ordinary people. Thanks to the Supreme Court, our 2nd Amendment survives, but it wasn't for lack of trying to get rid of it.
James Brady is gone, but his departure brings a new threat to a different Constitutional right found in the 5th Amendment: that "[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."
John Hinckley was immediately arrested by the Secret Service after shooting Mr. Brady and the President. He was charged and tried in court, and found not guilty by reason of insanity.
For many years he was locked up in St. Elizabeth's psychiatric hospital; in recent years he has been permitted closely-supervised visits with his elderly parents, and the supervision has gradually relaxed. One could argue that, as an attempted murderer, he should have been executed, but most sane thugs would have served their time and been released from jail right now, even if they'd committed first-degree murder.
Yet, according to the state of Virginia, Mr. Hinckley has just committed a new capital crime worthy of trial and prison, even though he hasn't set a foot wrong for lo these many decades. How could he with the men in white coats breathing down his neck?
The leaps of lawyerly logic here are wondrous to behold.
Did Mr. Hinckley shoot Mr. Brady? Certainly he did.
Is Mr. Brady dead? He is now.
Did Mr. Hinckley's actions lead to Mr. Brady's death? Apparently so, in that he never fully recovered from Mr. Hinckley's criminal acts.
Was Mr. Hinckley ever tried for murder? Actually, no, because in 1981 he hadn't killed anyone. Both Mr. Reagan and Mr. Brady were still alive and both lived on for many years. So, on the face of it, it does seem that there is an outstanding crime for which Mr. Hinckley has not yet answered.
Yet, there seems something deeply unjust about re-litigating an act from decades ago which has already had its day in court and judgment declared. On the other hand, it makes sense to charge criminals for murder even when their victims don't die on the spot; we hear all the time about shooting victims who are removed to the hospital and die several days later without regaining consciousness.
What about if they live for a few weeks and then die? Or a few months? How about if they're shot in the head and go into a coma, which can last for years?
How about Mr. Brady, who wasn't in a coma for 30 years, just in a wheelchair? Was he murdered, or only assaulted? How long can you survive before your eventual demise doesn't count as murder?
That's why the Constitution doesn't say that you can't be charged twice for the same crime - murder is a different crime from assault. The Constitutional restriction is on double jeopardy for the same offence - which is the actions taken on that sad day so long ago.
Alas, we no longer place a proper value on this protection. Mr. Brady's assaults on the 2nd Amendment were successfully repulsed by the efforts of enough Americans to make a difference, but fewer people feel as strongly about the 5th Amendment.
That's not to say it's entirely irrelevant, as the Washington Post mentioned:
In 2007, a Pennsylvania man who had served 16 years for shooting a police officer in 1966 was arrested again and charged with murder after the officer’s death, which was ruled a homicide based on the bullet wound 41 years earlier. The man was tried by a jury and acquitted.
Jury nullification is all very well, but why are our prosecutors wasting your tax dollars on blatantly unconstitutional charges? Why is the Virginia medical examiner flouting all rule of law and common sense by retroactively creating murders from acts taken back in the waning days of the disco era? Do they really have nothing better to do with their time?
Apparently not, which is why, as sympathetic as we are to spending money on law and order, it's clear that all government budgets need to be cut a whole lot more. We won't hold our breath.
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.