President Reagan said yesterday that he witl propose "common-sense revisions" in use of the "misinterpreted and abused" insanity defense in federal criminal trials as part of a package of anticrime legislation he intends to send Congress Monday.
In a radio speech from Camp David on the "crime epidemic" he said is sweeping the nation, Reagan also indicated that he will seek restrictions on rights of prisoners to appeal convictions in federal courts and will propose weakening in federal cases the "exclusionary rule" barring introduction of evidence illegally obtained by police.
The proposals would probably have limited effect on hand ling of criminal cases, since most are brought in state courts. But such measures are popular with hard-core conservatives who appeal to blue-collar ethnics and are among a battery of social issues, including abortion, school prayer and tuition tax credits, that Reagan is attempting to make the theme of the 1982 congressional campaigns.
Reagan, whose assailant John W. Hinckley Jr., was acquitted after pleading not quilty by reason of insanity, intends to propose limiting the insanity defense in federal cases to instances in which the defendant clearly could not distinguish right from wrong, according to administration and Senate sources.
That would be done rather than requiring consideration of the more complex questions put to the Hinckley jury about appreciation of wrongfulness and ability to control conduct.
Under the prospective legislation, lawyers arquing that their client was insane "would have to show that the guy really did not know that he was shooting a human being or killing somebody," an administration official said.
The sources indicated that the administration and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) decided not to introduce a proposal for a tougher "guilty but insane" verdict after many lawyers argued that it would probably be unconstitutional since the definition of a criminal act in U.S. jurisprudence turns so heavily on intent.
During the public uproar immediately after Hinckley's acquittal, Reagan and Thurmond had suggested strongly that they would favor such a change.
Rep. Dennis M. Hertel (Mich.), responding for the Democrats to Reagan's radio address, suggested that Reagan's emphasis on crime was a diversionary tactic, since both parties support strong action against crime.
The real debate, Hertel said, is about Reagan's economic theories, which he said had "failed miserably and conclusively" to deal with the "worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. "
Hertel bragged about Congress' override of Reagan's veto of a supplemental appropriations bill -- "a major event in the nation's capital this week," he called those votes. He proposed a new "Reindustrialization Finance Corporation" to create jobs by providing low-interest loans to businesses inesses and farmers,
Reagan indicated that changes in the "exclusionary rule" he would propose as amendments to the new federal criminal code pending in Congress would allow admission of illegally seized evidence in federal criminal trials if prosecutors could show that police had acted in "good faith" when they erred.
The rule has made drug prosecutions difficult, and Reagan complained that it can force a judge to "throw out of court on the basis of a small technicality an entire case, no matter how quilty the defendant or how heinous the crime."
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, one of the strongest advocates of such changes, has led forces trimming back on the rule but has not succeeded in having it overturned. He wants changes to permit defendants to seek civil penalties against police officers who seize evidence illegally, but he would permit it to be admitted in court.
Civil libertarians argue that such evidence is the "fruit of the poison tree" and should not be admissible.
The other major revision Reagan indicated that he will seek would restrict prisoners from filing writs of habeas corpus in federal courts appealing their state court convictions. Reagan said such petitions cause interference by federal courts in state criminal proceedings, overburden federal courts and "slow the wheels of justice."
Thurmond introduced versions of both proposals in the Senate this year but was unable to get either out of his Judiciary Committee.
Elements of the proposed federal criminal code are to be brought up in the Senate next week, a Thurmond aide said, but the new Reagan proposals are unlikely to be considered then,
Reagan took a jab at Congress for failing to act promptly on these and other "major initiatives against lawlessness in America," adding that "every moment wasted is a moment lost in the war against crime."
"We must make America safe again," he said, "especially for women and elderly who face so many moments of fear. You have every right to be concerned.
"We live in the midst of a crime epidemic that took the lives of more than 22,000 people last year and has touched nearly one-third of American households, costing them about $8.8 billion per year in financial losses."