Home / Sun Devil Shelf Life / Disorder in the Court
Cover of Disorder in the Court by Andrea L. Alden
August 2018
University of Alabama Press

College or Unit:

Disorder in the Court

Morality, Myth, and the Insanity Defense
Andrea L. Alden

The first book-length rhetorical history and analysis of the insanity defense, considered one of the most controversial, most misunderstood, and least straightforward subjects in the American legal system. This book traces U.S. legal standards for the insanity defense as they have evolved from 1843, when first codified in England, to 1984, when the U.S. attempted to revise them through the Insanity Defense Reform Act. Throughout this period “insanity” existed primarily as a legal term rather than a medical one; yet the testimony of psychiatric experts is required in cases in which an insanity defense is raised.

Alden argues that the problems with understanding the insanity defense are, at their foundation, rhetorical. She examines landmark court cases such as the trial of Daniel McNaughtan, Durham v. United States, and the trial of John Hinckley Jr. that signal the major shifts in the legal definitions. Combining archival, textual and rhetorical analysis, Alden offers a close reading of texts including trial transcripts, appellate court opinions and relevant medical literature. She contextualizes these analyses through popular texts showing that while all societies have maintained some version of mental illness as a mitigating factor in their penal systems, the insanity defense has always been fraught with controversy.


Andrea L. Alden earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication (1999), a Master of Arts in English (2008), and a PhD in English (2014) at Arizona State University.

Praise for this book

“This is a terrific book and one that is long overdue. 'Disorder in the Court' engages two important, but relatively understudied, areas of rhetorical scholarship – the rhetoric of law and the rhetoric of medicine – in order to shed light on the intriguing issue of insanity defenses.”

Edward Schiappa
Author of 'Beyond Representational Correctness: Rethinking Criticism of Popular Media'

“An important contribution that provides a concise rhetorical assessment of the development of the insanity defense in America.”

Francis J. Mootz III
Author of 'Law, Hermeneutics, and Rhetoric'