The Durham Standard

By Stephanie Lee

Durham, New Hampshire

Finally, in 1954 the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia brought psychiatry and more solid evidence.  From the Durham Court from New Hampshire, the Federal courts adopted a test that simply showed whether the accused did the crime due to a mental disorder (which was determined by the psychiatrists themselves) for the jury to take into consideration in deciding their finding (Garrison, 1998).

New Hampshire Supreme Court

The goal of the Durham rule to draw away from just symptoms to actual diagnosing of mental disorders.  It was a way to try and have solid evidence versus determining a mental state based on sympptoms with no psychiatric diagnosis (Simon, 1983).

The Durham Rule unfortunately was abandoned out without receiving full acceptance in 1972 with the US v. Brawner case in the D.C. Circuit of Appeals (Garrison, 1998).  This was due to a couple of reasons.  Firstly, diagnosis by psychiatrists are subjective and do not always match up with the diagnosis of other psychiatrists for the same exact patient.  And secondly, due to this mismatch among the psychiatrists and doctor, the jury would get confused in the courtroom.  The tests were to decide whether the accused had a mental disease, defect, or disorder and whether that had any relation to the crime committed.  Due to the confusion and subjectivity of the area in the courtroom, it was often difficult for the jury to draw from and make conclusion from (Fingarette, 1982).


Fingarette H. (1982). What is criminal insanity, in ethics, public policy, and criminal justice. Gunn and Hain, Publishers Inc.

Garrison, A. H. (1998). The history of the M’Naghten insanity defense and the use of posttraumatic stress disorder as a basis of insanity. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 16, 39-88.

Simon, R. (1983). The defense of insanity. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 11, 29-40.

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