Anonymous said: What are your (legal) thoughts on the recent determination that James Brady's death was a homicide?

He was 73. He was shot 33 years ago. There’s a bit of a causation problem, I’d say. How the government would prove that the bullet wound is precisely the thing that killed him is a bit tricky. The NY Times reported today that the medical examiner determined that the gunshot was the cause of death, but an ME’s report is not a legal ruling. A jury’s going to have to be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that it took that bullet 33 years to kill Brady, and but for that bullet he’d still be alive today. That’s hard to do for someone who lived as long or longer than the actuarial tables said he would. And it’s even harder when the law says if it takes more than a year and a day to kill someone, then it’s not the cause of death. Which I believe is the law in the relevant jurisdiction.

It’s a big “if,” but even if the feds could prove causation they’re still stuck. Because they already tried John Hinckley Jr. for attempted murder of Brady, and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The finding that he was legally insane is a final judgment of fact, binding on any other later cases arising out of the same scenario (in the jurisdiction where that judgment occurred, at least). Because he was already found legally insane in the shooting, he is legally insane for the shooting death as well.  As a matter of law, he’s not guilty of the murder, even if the shooting is what killed Brady 33 years later.

Note that I’m not mentioning Double Jeopardy as a bar to prosecution. Because it isn’t. Attempted murder and Murder are two different crimes for Double Jeopardy purposes. Don’t get me started on whether it makes sense for them to be different crimes. The fact is that they are.

tl;dr — (1) It’s iffy to say the bullet 33 years ago is what just now killed this 73-year-old man. (2) Hinckley was officially legally insane at the time, so he can’t be found guilty even if he did cause the death. (3) Double Jeopardy isn’t an issue here.

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