Combat-related PTSD in military court: A diagnosis in search of a defense

Landy F. Sparr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


As more veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often returns with them. As a result, PTSD has quickly become the most prevalent mental disorder diagnosis among active duty United States (U.S.) military. Although numerous studies have not only validated PTSD but have chronicled its negative behavioral impact, it remains a controversial diagnosis. It is widely diagnosed by all types of mental health professionals for even minimal trauma, and DSM-IV PTSD criteria have wide overlap with other mood and anxiety disorders. This, however, has not stopped PTSD from being used in civilian courts in the U.S. as a mental disorder to establish grounds for mental status defenses, such as insanity, diminished capacity, and self-defense, or as a basis for sentencing mitigation. Not surprisingly, PTSD has recently found its way into military courts, where some defense attorneys are eager to draw upon its understandable and linear etiology to craft some type of mental incapacity defense for their clients. As in the civilian sphere, this has met with mixed success due to relevance considerations. A recent court-martial, U.S. v. Lawrence Hutchins III, has effectively combined all the elemental nuances of PTSD in military court.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-30
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Court-Martials
  • Mental status defenses
  • PTSD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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