Richard D. Moran

Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Criminology (the insanity defense, capital punishment, and the history of the electric chair); deviance; medical sociology

Richard Moran is a criminologist and a leading expert on the insanity defense, capital punishment, and the history of the electric chair. His book The Executioner's Current (Knopf, 2002) is the story of how the electric chair developed out of an effort by one nineteenth-century electric company to discredit the other.

"Moran is a wonderful storyteller," said Alan Dershowitz. "The history of the electric chair— with rich AC/DC electric moguls trying to destroy each other's business— makes a fascinating tale of greed, opportunism, and hypocrisy. Thomas Edison's attempt to make George Westinghouse into America's Dr. Guillotine is worth reading by everyone who cares about business ethics, the death penalty, and justice."

The author of numerous articles and reviews, Moran has also served as a commentator for National Public Radio's Morning Edition and written op-eds for the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Newsweek.

In 1981, Moran published Knowing Right from Wrong: The Insanity Defense of Daniel McNaughtan, which was the first detailed study of the nineteenth-century case responsible for the modern insanity defense. He has testified before the Massachusetts Legislature and at Congressional Judiciary Committee hearings.

Moran teaches Criminal Law and Justice, the Sociology of Medicine, and Social Problems.

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Selected Publications


Executioner's Current:  Thoma Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair.  New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Knowing Right from Wrong: The Insanity Defense of Daniel McNaughtan. New York, The Free Press, a division of Macmillan Publishing Co., 1981.

Featured Essay

"Bringing Rational Choice Theory Back to Reality," published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Volume 86, Number 3, Spring 1996, pp. 1147-1160.


"The Insanity Defense: Five Years After Hinckley," published in Perspectives on Deviance, edited by Robert J. Kelley and Donal E. J. MacNamara, Anderson Publishing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, l990, pp. 77-87.

"The Punitive Uses of The Insanity Defense: The Trial for Treason of Edward Oxford (l840)," International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 9, No. 2, Fall l986, pp. l7l-l90.

The Insanity Defense(Special Editor), The Annals, January, 1985, pp. 190.

"The Origin of Insanity as a Special Verdict: The Trial For Treason of James Hadfield (1800)," Law & Society Review, Volume 19, No. 3, December, 1985, pp. 601-633.

"The Modern Foundation for the Insanity Defense: The Cases of James Hadfield (1800) and Daniel McNaughtan (1843)," The Annals, January, 1985, pp. 31-42.

"Medicine and Crime: The Search for the Born Criminal and Rise of the Medical Control of Problem Behavior," From Badness to Sickness: A Sociology of Deviance and Social Control by Peter Conrad and Joseph W. Scheider, The C.V. Mosby Company, 1980, pp. 215-240. Winner of the George Herbert Mead Award of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

"Criminal Victimization of the Elderly," Housing and Society, 1978, Volume 5, No. 1, pp. 12-19. Co-authored with the late Stephen Schafer.

"Biomedical Research and the Politics of Crime Control: A Historical Perspective," published in Contemporary Crises: Crime, Law, Social Policy, July 1978, pp. 335-357.

"Social Change and Political Crime," published in Deviance and Social Change, edited by Edward Sagarin, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, California, 1977, pp. 171-194.

"Awaiting the Crown's Pleasure: The Case of Daniel M'Naughton," Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Journal, May 1977, pp. 7-26.

"Victims Without Crimes: Compensation for the Not Guilty," Victimology: A New Focus, edited by Israel Drapkin and Emilio Viano, D.C. Heath and Co., Lexington, Massachusetts, pp. 221-226. Co-authored with Stephen Ziedman.

"Advertisements of Self: The Search for Identity Among Inmates," Images of Crime: Offenders and Victims, Terrence P. Thornberry and Edward Sagarin, Editors, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1974, pp. 67-78.

"Criminal Homicide: External Restraint and Subculture of Violence," Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Journal, February 1971, pp. 357-374.