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Richard J. Bonnie papers

Identifier: MSS-81-9

Scope and Contents

The Bonnie Papers, given to the law library continuously since 1981, comprise 196 boxes (98 linear feet). The collection includes Bonnie's professional, legal, and research papers, covering the years from approximately 1969 through 2016. An extensive general correspondence file contains materials related to his work in the Law School and other activities; correspondence touching on most of his professional and consulting activities typically may be found with related papers in the appropriate series. There are very few personal papers.

The collection should be useful to anyone researching drug law, particularly the debate over the decriminalization of marijuana and the rise in drug usage in the 1970s -- an era of great ferment for the drug issue in the United States. Clippings, correspondence, legislative testimony, the materials of special interest groups like NORML, and the notes for Bonnie's books convey the thoughts and attitudes that shaped the drug issue during these years. There is a similar, if not as extensive, collection of materials on the insanity defense from the early 1980s.


  • Creation: 1913-2016


Biographical / Historical

Richard Jeffrey Bonnie, John S. Battle Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, is a recognized authority in the fields of mental health, drug law, and criminal law. In addition to his roles at the Law School, where he began teaching in 1969, Bonnie has worked for the federal government in various capacities, and as a private consultant.

Born in 1945 at Richmond, Virginia, Bonnie received his bachelor of arts degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and his law degree from Virginia three years later. He ranked first in his law school class, served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review, and belonged to the Order of the Coif and the Raven Society.

Following graduation, Bonnie taught at the Law School for a year before becoming associate director of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, serving from 1971 to 1973. In March 1972, the commission, under the direction of former Pennsylvania governor Raymond P. Shafer, unanimously recommended the decriminalization of consumption-related marijuana offenses. Although the report was endorsed by organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the National Education Association, it was quickly rejected by President Nixon and drew only a mixed response from state legislatures. An amendment to the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, drafted partially by Bonnie and incorporating the commission's findings, was approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1973. "From 1972 through 1977," Bonnie writes in the preface to his 1980 book, Marijuana Use and Criminal Sanctions, "I was actively involved in the effort to win legislative support for reforming the marijuana laws (p. iii)." During most of these years he was also teaching at the Law School (having returned in the fall of 1973), but he found time to participate in the marijuana reform movement in several ways. Bonnie was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (1975-1980), served as a special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, and helped write President Ford's White Paper on Drug Abuse in 1975. He testified on marijuana policy before two U.S. Senate subcommittees and 15 state legislative committees, and in 1976-1977 helped the National Governors' Conference develop its study on state marijuana penalties and policies. In 1977 he visited several European countries for the federal government, in part to explain the Carter administration's endorsement of marijuana decriminalization. Besides Marijuana Use, Bonnie also co-authored The Marihuana Conviction (1974) with Virginia colleague Charles H. Whitebread II, as well as numerous articles on marijuana and drug law for scholarly journals and periodicals, ranging from the Washington Post to the National Enquirer. In the 1980s, Bonnie began to move away from drug law and turn his attention more to the fields of psychiatry, mental health, and criminal law. He was chairman of the State Human Rights Committee (1979-1985), which was responsible for protecting the rights of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled in Virginia's public institutions, and co-authored a casebook on criminal law (1982) with Virginia professors Peter W. Low and John C. Jeffries, Jr. Bonnie became a noted expert on the insanity defense, a heated issue following the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr., in 1982, for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Richard J. Bonnie teaches and writes about criminal law, bioethics, and public policies relating to mental health, substance abuse, and public health. He is Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law in the School of Law, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences in the School of Medicine, and Professor of Public Policy in the Frank S. Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Bonnie has been actively involved in public service throughout his academic career. He was an advisor to the White House office on drug policy from 1973-77 and secretary of the first National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (1975‐80). From 1979‐1985, he was Chairman of Virginia's State Human Rights Committee, which is responsible for protecting the rights of residents and clients of Virginia's public services system for behavioral health and developmental disabilities. He also chaired the Commonwealth’s influential Commission on Mental Health Law Reform from 2006-2011, at the request of the Chief Justice of Virginia. Bonnie served from 1981‐88 on the Advisory Board for the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards Project, from 2004‐2007 on the ABA Task Force on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty, and is currently serving on an ABA Task Force charged with revising the Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards. He has served on three John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Networks – on Mental Health and the Law (1986-1996), Mandated Community Treatment (2000-10), and Law and Neuroscience (since 2006). He has served as an advisor to the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Psychiatry and Law since 1979, and also serves as an advisor to the Committee on Ethics, Law and Humanities of the American Academy of Neurology.

Bonnie was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1991 and has chaired and served on numerous IOM/NRC consensus studies, ranging from elder abuse to underage drinking. He recently chaired landmark studies on tobacco policy, Ending the Tobacco Problem (2007) and juvenile justice, Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach (2013). He has served on governing Boards of both the IOM and NRC, including the IOM Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health, the NRC Committee on Law and Justice, and the NRC Board on the Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, and is currently serving on the NRC Board on Cognitive, Behavioral and Sensory Sciences. In 2002 he was awarded the Yarmolinsky Medal for his extraordinary service to the IOM and the National Academies.


98 Linear Feet (196 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection of professional, legal and research papers (1981 – 2018) captures Professor Bonnie’s public service. Drug related issues, decriminalization of marijuana and insanity defense; extra teaching activities at the University of Virginia; case files on death row inmates; professional files related to issues of mental competency; visit to the Soviet Union as member of US delegation invited to investigated the political abuse of psychiatry; files from the State [Virginia] Human Rights Commission, American Bar Association, University of Virginia Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy; Virginia Department of Health and Mental Retardation, State Human Rights Committee, Virginia Bar Association; Institute of Medicine related to the Nicotine Study for prevention of tobacco use by children and youth; Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry; Commission on Mental Health Reform in Virginia; China Mental Health Reform; Scottish Law Commission and files regarding mental health law in the Czech Republic, Georgia and Serbia; College Mental Health Study files are some of the topics researcher can find in these papers.


The Bonnie papers remain grouped as they were received.

MSS 81-9 contains clippings on the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, or Shafer Commission.

MSS 81-9a: contains public service files (almost exclusively relating to drug issues); professional activities (relating mainly to drugs and the insanity defense); University of Virginia, primarily the Law School; general correspondence and related files.

MSS 81-9b contains miscellaneous papers relating to Bonnie's work with a task force organized to study alcohol and drug abuse at the University of Virginia, 1986-1987.

MSS 81-9c includes assorted papers on alcohol and drug law, psychiatry, the Graduate Program for Judges, and the University of Virginia, as well as general correspondence for 1985-1986.

MSS 81-9d comprises files dated 1972 to 1990 dealing with the death penalty -- case files of eight death row inmates (four of whom were represented by Bonnie), and professional papers concerning the issue of mental competency. The case files consist mainly of records and briefs, but also include background material and correspondence. Most notable are those materials, such as psychiatric evaluations and clinical interviews, which pertain to the issue of mental competency. Bonnie's professional papers also include scholarly articles and transcripts of speeches dealing with this topic. Researchers must have Professor Bonnie's permission for access to the death row case files.

Also of note in these papers are files dealing with Bonnie's 1989 visit to the Soviet Union as a member of a delegation investigating psychiatric abuses in that country. These files contain the delegation's official report, travel accounts, interviews with Soviet psychiatric patients, and translations of various Soviet laws and regulations. Researchers whose interest is human rights in the Soviet Union will find these files useful, as they contain primary source material on the role of the Soviet psychiatric profession in suppressing dissent. MSS 81-9f concerns the 1990 death penalty appeal of Joe Giarratano, including the clemency petition documents to Governor Douglas M. Wilder, as well as psychiatric evaluations, tests and studies, review of the facts, letters of support for Giarratano, and correspondence with him. Researchers must have Richard Bonnie's permission for access to the Giarratano files. This addition also contains some files concerning the 1990 Soviet Psychiatry Project.

MSS 81-9g includes Law School files restricted to researchers having access permission from the Dean's Office, as well as unrestricted files for other Law School and University committees. In addition are papers of the American Psychiatric Association [APA], the State Human Rights Committee [SHRC], the Virginia Bar Association [VBA], the Virginia Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation [VDMHMR], and the Marihuana Project. There are other miscellaneous files.

MSS 81-9h contains a large group of documents from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) related to the report on the Nicotine Study regarding the prevention of tobacco use by children and youths. Additional death row files, including Joe Giarratano's (restricted), and other professional matters are part of this addition.

MSS 81-9i consists of files related to Soviet psychiatry and the 1991 visit of members of the World Psychiatry Association trip to the U.S.S.R. The remaining boxes concern other professional interests, such as the American Psychiatric Association, the Institute of Medicine's study on nicotine, Medicine in the Public Interest, capital punishment, as well as law school matters.

MSS 81-9j contains professional files related to the Law School, the Institute of Medicine, and Virginia Bar Association files related to criminal law and on the mentally disabled.

MSS 81-9k contains Professor Bonnie's activities report; files on CPDD (College on Problems of Drug Dependence); correspondence, and client files. Also APA Council files, Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, State Human Rights Study, and other miscellaneous files.

MSS 81-9l contains files on issues concerning the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, and the Institute of Medicine that relate to earlier accessions of Bonnie’s papers. In addition, there is more recent correspondence with Svetlana Polubinskaya.

MSS 81-9m contains restricted files that will be open in 2040.

MSS 81-9n consists of miscellaneous files related to Soviet Psychiatry and USA v. Russell Eugene Weston, Jr.

MSS 81-9o contains working professional files, mainly of the American Psychiatry Association Council, elder abuse and neglect files, and client files.

MSS 81-9p consists of APA Files, committee files, and some Russian documents pertaining to mental health law and protection for the disabled. The Atkins v. Virginia files pertaining to Prof. Bonnie's work on the special sub-committee of the Virginia State Crime Commission to revise the issues of the Supreme Court Case, and to assemble a Clinical Advisory Group (CAG) to assist the sub-committee in August of 2002.

MSS 81-9q was merged with MSS 81-9r.

MSS 81-9r is divided in two parts. The first part include files related to Bonnie's work in mental health law internationally and in the United States. The majority of the files contain documents from the GIP [Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry] work on former Soviet republics and the Network of Reformers in Psychiatry files. There are miscellaneous professional files, clients' files [restricted], correspondence files, and University of Virginia and Law School files. The second part is entirely related to the Commission on Mental Health Reform in Virginia (2001 - 2010).

MSS 81-9s relates to the work and organization of the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry (GIP), an international nonprofit organization established in 1980 to eradicate the political abuse of psychiatry, mainly in the Soviet Union and Romania. The collection also includes files on China’s Mental Health Reform, the World Psychiatric Association China Mission, some Czech and Serbia files related to mental health, and the Scottish Law Commission. In addition, there are IOM (Institute of Medicine) files regarding Bonnie’s work on the Committee on Improving Health, Safety and Well-being of Young Adults, and the Committee on Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age for Purchasing Tobacco Products, and State of Virginia files related to mental health.

MSS 81-9t consists of APA [American Psychiatric Association] Committee on Judicial Action files and Council on Psychiatry and Law files, Virginia Commission for Mental Health Reform files, College Mental Health Study files, Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy files, and other miscellaneous documents. All complement previous installments of documents. Researchers are encouraged to read all guides.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Professor Bonnie has donated his papers to the Arthur J. Morris Library in 1981, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections Repository

Arthur J. Morris Law Library
580 Massie Road
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22903 United States