Researcher ORCID Identifier


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Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

John Shields

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Sascha L Douglass


Today, insanity remains perhaps the most controversial intersection of psychology and law. Early American insanity jurisprudence, however, was characterized by remarkable consensus. In the 20th century, state’s insanity rules diffused. This thesis contends that this diffusion is the product of two subsequent trends: a period of expert driven policymaking characterized by reception of modern psychiatric science and a period of popular policymaking guided by a repudiation of expertise and dominance of public desire for accountability. The first period, from 1950s to 1970s, witnessed broad liberalization, with judges and legislators aligning the insanity defense with more scientific understandings of mental illness. The second period, spanning the 1980s to present, is characterized by codification of public responses to high profile insanity cases. This paper also contends that recent developments in neuroscience have the potential to re-legitimize the insanity defense and could lead to a future period of liberalization.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.