Third degree (interrogation)

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The third degree is a euphemism for torture ("inflicting of pain, physical or mental, to extract confessions or statements").[1] In 1931, the Wickersham Commission found that use of the third degree was widespread in the United States.[1]

Possible origins[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jerome Herbert Skolnick (1994). Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force. Simon & Schuster. p. 43. ISBN 0-02-929153-4. ... which it defined as 'the inflicting of pain, physical or mental, to extract confessions or statements' was widespread throughout the United States ... Another, proposed in 1910 by Richard Sylvester, President of the ...
  2. ^ Darius M. Rejali (2007). Torture and Democracy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11422-6. The phrase was originally coined by Major Richard Sylvester of Washington ...
  3. ^ Ken Alder (2007). The Lie Detectors. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-5988-2. Thomas Byrnes, New York's notorious cop, is said to have coined the term 'third degree'—perhaps a pun on his name—for his violent interrogations…
  4. ^ The degrees of torture used by the Spanish Inquisition have been described by Julius Glarus in the following terms: "Know therefore that there are five degrees of torture, viz: First, the being threatened to be tortured. Secondly, being carried to the place of torture. Thirdly, by stripping and binding. Fourthly, the being hoisted up on the rack. Fifthly, squassation." From these degrees of torture we get the famous third degree over which there has been so much controversy in the Press recently.

    John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

    The "third degree" method of torturing a prisoner or suspect into confessing or answering questions or giving information is based on the method used by the Spanish Inquisition and is, generally, a war of nerves on the victim, followed many times by brute force at the end of a truncheon, by deliberate starvation, a deprivation of drink, exercise, sleep and amenities to perform the natural functions.

    Edwin J. Henri, Methods of Torture and Execution, 1966

  5. ^ Odifreddi, Piergiorgio (c. 2000). "L'intuizione al potere". Logica Matematica. Episode 14. Nettuno (RAI). Translation of relevant passage (13:03-13:22): "The next problem, however, equations of third degree, is a very complicated problem. And in fact, even today people say 'he's giving me the third degree', or when you go to the police station and get arrested, the police give you the 'third degree'. So why this expression about the 'third degree'? Well the 'third degree' derives from right here, from the fact that the third-degree equation was very difficult to solve.'