Writing Sample (Analysis of the Patty Hearst Trial)

Patty Hearst and Stockholm Syndrome

            Stockholm Syndrome is defined as a psychological phenomenon where the victims of kidnapping eventually become, not only sympathetic to their captors, but begin to feel dependant on them. Stockholm syndrome can lead to kidnapping victims even trying to protect and defend their captors. We no doubt can see how Stockholm syndrome can work against the interests of the justice system. Patty Hearst was a woman with a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. In fact Hearst went as far as to commit various serious crimes voluntarily so as to appease her kidnappers.

The story of Patty Hearst begins on February 4, 1974. On that day the 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from the Berkeley, California apartment she shared with her fiancé Steven Weed. Hearst was kidnapped by a left-wing group called the “Symbionese Liberation Army”. Being that Hearst grew up in a wealthy household, the kidnappers demanded that Hearst’s family donate food to the community. Hearst’s family complied. However the kidnappers refused to release Hearst. Later Hearst stated that she had now become a member of the kidnapper’s group.

On April 15, 1974, Hearst was seen holding a machine gun, while robbing the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. Later communications from her were issued under the pseudonym Tania and asserted that she was committed to the goals of the “Symbionese Liberation Army” . A warrant was issued for her arrest and in September 1975, she was arrested in a San Francisco apartment with other “Symbionese Liberation Army” members.

Patty Hearst’s trial for the bank robery began on February 4, 1976. While Hearst was afflicted with Stockholm Syndrom as early as three months before her arrest, she was defending the “Symbionese Liberation Army”, and maintaining her allegiance to the organization. However that changed when the trial began. When the trial began Hearst began to  claim she had been brainwashed and feared that if she tried to escape and return to her parents, she would have been killed. Hearst’s law team was headed by F. Lee Bailey and his associate Albert Johnson.  Bailey chose attempt to prove that Hearst had been brainwashed and suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. This defense had various flaws. For one when we listen to Hearst’s own words after becoming a member of “Symbionese Liberation Army” involved her saying that “The idea of brainwashing is ridiculous.” Another problem was the fact that under federal law brainwashing is not a defense. In order to use a defense similar it must be proven that Hearst was in imminent fear for her life and acquittal on this theory would be difficult for Hearst. In the end, after twelve hours of deliberation, the jury found that Hearst was guilty of armed robbery. Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison.

It is very interesting to note that Hearst did not serve her full seven month sentence. The president at the time, Jimmy Carter, decided to commute Hearst’s sentence to time served which would lead to Hearst serving twenty two months in prison. On January 20th, 2001 President Bill Clinton decided to give a full pardon to Hearst.

It is important to analyze how this same matter would be treated now. Modern technology may have little baring in such a matter. However, I believe that as psychological conditions become more researched and analyzed, the psychiatric effects of Stockholm Syndrome will become more widely known and perhaps relied on in cases involving such facts. I tend to believe that the country has become more liberal and more understanding. There are very few states where that is more the case then California, where Hearst was tried and convicted. Now, during a time when people are more understanding and women receive more sympathy, I have a hard time believing that the trial would have been decided in the same way. I believe that now Hearst would have received more sympathy and thus a jury may have decided to convict Hearst. I tend to believe that the sympathy and public perception may have led to the commuting of Hearst’s sentence and the Clinton pardon. I do not believe that Hearst should have received a pardon. While Hearst was treated harshly and should receive justice for the ordeal that she went though as a captive of the “Symbionese Liberation Army”, Hearst was a voluntary participant in the violent bank robbery that she engaged in. I tend to agree with the analysis of the federal courts, that you must prove duress and a legitimate fear of death in order to pursue a defense for a crime in which the culprit was a captive.


Works Referenced


Layton, Julia. What causes Stockholm syndrome? 15 04 2012 <http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/mental-disorders/stockholm-syndrome.htm>.

Linder, Douglas O. Patty Hearst Trial. 2007. 20 04 2012 <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/hearst/hearstdolaccount.html>.

Magazine, Time. Notorious Presidential Pardons. 10 04 2012 <http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1862257_1862325_1862323,00.html>.

Ramsland, Katherine. TruTV. 03 04 2012 <http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/terrorists_spies/terrorists/hearst/1.html>.

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