Less Advance Notice Required for Outings
Saturday, June 2, 2007
A federal judge ruled yesterday that St. Elizabeths Hospital must continue to inform the Secret Service before John W. Hinckley Jr. leaves the mental institution for day trips in Washington. But the judge shortened the advance notice to four days from two weeks.
Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan and three other men in 1981, and was acquitted by reason of insanity, is allowed to leave the hospital occasionally for therapeutic day trips in Washington and overnight visits with his elderly parents, who live near Williamsburg. Psychiatric experts have said his mental illness has been in remission for years.
In a court filing in March, his attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to do away with the notice requirement.
Although the ruling clearly shortens the notice requirement to four days for day trips, prosecutors and an attorney for Hinckley, 52, disagreed on whether the two-week-notice requirement remains in effect for his visits with his parents. Those furloughs typically last about four days.
"We are pleased that the court struck a balance which recognizes the importance of giving advance notice to law enforcement of the movements of Mr. Hinckley within the District of Columbia even when he is accompanied by hospital staff," Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said in a statement.
Phillips said law enforcement officials were pleased that "the current requirement of two weeks' notice for unaccompanied visits to his parents' home remains unaffected by this decision." But one of Hinckley's attorneys, Barry Wm. Levine, said yesterday that he believes the ruling applies to furloughs as well as day trips. He said the two sides probably will have to seek a clarification from Friedman.
Even if the ruling applies only to day trips, Levine said, "it's a very substantial victory for John Hinckley. . . . Any shortening of the advance notice -- and this is a substantial shortening -- allows him to enjoy more privileges."
The day trips in Washington, known as "B-City Visits," are "limited trips off the hospital grounds in the custody of hospital staff that all other similarly situated patients are allowed if the hospital deems it appropriate," Hinckley's attorneys wrote in court filings. "These B-City Visits are part of the treatment and therapy for patients."
Many of the day trips are recreational, allowing patients to experience the outside world and improve their "socialization skills," Levine said yesterday.
Because of the two-week-notice requirement, the attorneys wrote, "many times Mr. Hinckley has been denied the opportunity to participate in these therapy activities. . . . The B-City Visits generally are not and cannot be scheduled two weeks ahead of time because many of the free or low-cost community reentry activities become available to the hospital on short notice."
In opposing the elimination of advance notice, the U.S. attorney's office argued that the Secret Service should always be aware of Hinckley's movements when he is away from the hospital.
Friedman, who said four days' notice would be "reasonable," has yet to rule on another issue in Hinckley's case: his request for longer visits of two to four weeks with his parents. Prosecutors oppose extending his furloughs.