Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond

George C. Thomas, Richard A. Leo

Research output: Book/ReportBook

19 Scopus citations


The extreme interrogation tactics permitted after the 9/11 attacks illustrate that the level of fear in society can influence interrogation law. Confessions of Guilt tells the story of how, over the centuries, law moved from indifference about extreme pressure to concern over the slightest pressure, and back again. Five movements from one extreme to the other can be detected in Anglo-American law. The book argues that the movements are largely caused by the level of threat felt in society. One of the movements occurred when American cities became dense, dangerous places in the late nineteenth century and judges became more accepting of high-pressure police interrogation. The trend would culminate in the "third degree," the use of extreme police coercion to obtain confessions. Not openly tolerated by courts, the third degree remained in the shadows and would largely disappear by the 1940s. A quarter-century later, the Supreme Court turned to Miranda rules that required warnings of the right to remain silent and the right to counsel. As crime rates once again skyrocketed, the courts continued to permit high-pressure tactics despite Miranda. Confessions law has thus lurched back toward a crime-control focus. The interrogation of terrorism suspects is only the most visible manifestation of that change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages336
ISBN (Electronic)9780199933303
ISBN (Print)9780195338935
StatePublished - May 24 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


  • Coercion
  • Confession
  • Interrogation
  • Involuntary
  • Magistrate Examination
  • Miranda
  • Third Degree
  • Torture


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