Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond

Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond

Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond

Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond


How did the United States, a nation known for protecting the "right to remain silent" become notorious for condoning and using controversial tactics like water boarding and extraordinary rendition to extract information? What forces determine the laws that define acceptable interrogation techniques and how do they shift so quickly from one extreme to another?

In Confessions of Guilt, esteemed scholars George C. Thomas III and Richard A. Leo tell the story of how, over the centuries, the law of interrogation has moved from indifference about extreme force to concern over the slightest pressure, and back again. The history of interrogation in the Anglo-American world, they reveal, has been a swinging pendulum rather than a gradual continuum of violence.

Exploring a realist explanation of this pattern, Thomas and Leo demonstrate that the law of interrogation and the process of its enforcement are both inherently unstable and highly dependent on the perceived levels of threat felt by a society. Laws react to fear, they argue, and none more so than those that govern the treatment of suspected criminals.

From England of the late eighteenth century to America at the dawn of the twenty-first,Confessions of Guilttraces the disturbing yet fascinating history of interrogation practices, new and old, and the laws that govern them. Thomas and Leo expertly explain the social dynamics that underpin the continual transformation of interrogation law and practice and look critically forward to what their future might hold.


In the course of writing this book, we surveyed sources from many eras and in varied databases. Our methodology was, roughly, as follows. For the oldest sources, up to and including the Year Books and the Old Bailey records to the end of the seventeenth century, we tried to include or cite every relevant source that we uncovered. As the records became more plentiful, we included representative samples of the various approaches that we found. In America, cases are scarce until the late nineteenth century, and often the early American cases we included are the only ones of that type that we found. But the early American cases follow the English cases of the period so closely that we believe the American cases we present accurately describe the law of the time.

To minimize footnotes, we did not use multiple citations to the same work if it is easy to find the referenced page from an earlier citation in the same paragraph.

We owe debts to many. Though we will undoubtedly omit some, we would be remiss if we did not name the following: Paul Axel-Lute, Deputy Director & Collection Development Librarian, Rutgers University, Newark, Law Library, for invaluable help locating and understanding many exotic and esoteric documents; Karin Johnsrud, Head of Reference, Fordham Law School Library, for help locating nineteenth-century New York documents; Maureen Cahill, Student Services Librarian at the University of Georgia Law Library, for help researching the origin of an 1861 Georgia statute regulating interrogation; Paul Brand and David Seipp, for help with the Year Book documents; Fabio Arcila, Al Garcia, Adam Gershowitz, Mark Godsey, Peter Honigsberg, David Johnson, Greg Mark, Dan Medwed, Wes Oliver, John Parry, Larry Rosenthal, and Mark Weiner for helpful comments, Jared Eber, Monica Kaul, Rachel Gruenstein, Dan LeCours, and Henry Snee, for research help; and Bill Hilger and Mary Ann Moore for technical help. We would also like to thank Martin Tulic for indexing . . .

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