James Brady Dies, Along With Another Constitutional Right

A man dies after being murdered 33 years ago.

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.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

As Brady went on to live 33 years and was in no immediate day-to-day danger of his injuries ending his life, this is silly and absurd. There is, however, related precedent:

On February 15, 1933, Giuseppe Zangara took a shot at Franklin Roosevelt shortly before his first inauguration. Four other persons were hit, one of them Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. He pled guilty to four counts of attempted murder and was given 80 years. On March 6, however, Cermak died -- as a direct result of his bullet wounds -- and Zangara was indicted for first degree murder; since he had intended to commit murder, the fact that his intended target wasn't the one dead became irrelevant. He went to the hot seat on March 20. (Not botched, by the way.)

So, was this double jeopardy? Plainly, the idea that Brady was murdered is nonsense, because his death did not result from his injuries. Cermak's, however, did, and although Zangara had already been sentenced, was it right to indict him for murder?

August 13, 2014 5:00 PM

I am reminded of an Agatha Christie mystery where the murderer intentionally set up false evidence to look like he had committed the murderer, with the intention of being arrested, going to trial, revealing the falseness of the evidence to the jury, and being acquitted. That way if the cops ever figured out how he really committed the murder, it would be too late for them to do anything about it.

Of course, this is just another example of how we no longer live under the rule of law. The law is whatever the prosecutor and other elites want it to be, no more and no less.

August 13, 2014 5:24 PM

This happened more recently over the Rodney King fiasco. The cops were acquitted of whatever they were charged with, then the feds went after them for violating Mr. King's civil rights. That put the cops in jail. The Supreme Court ruled that this was not double jeopardy.

As Patience said, "The law is whatever the prosecutor and other elites want it to be, no more and no less."

August 14, 2014 11:33 AM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...