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] No one knows the origin of the term, but there are several hypotheses.[1] The use of the third degree was technically made illegal after the Wickersham report.[citation needed] However, the interrogation method known as the Reid technique, which is now widely used by law enforcement in the U.S., is seen by many as simply a psychological version of the third degree in that it is equally capable of extracting a false confession through coercion when abused by police.[2]

Possible origins[edit]

  • Richard H. Sylvester.[3]
  • The third degree of Freemasonry and the rigorous procedures to advance to that level.[1]
  • The term may have been coined by nineteenth century New York City Police detective Thomas F. Byrnes, perhaps as a pun on his name, as in third degree burns.[4]
  • The Knights of Columbus have a third degree ceremony which is required to advance to that level, seen as rigorous.
  • The progressive degrees of torture used to extract confessions during the Spanish Inquisition.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ Kolker, Robert (2010-10-03). "Why Do People Confess to Crimes They Didn't Commit?". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  3. ^ 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 ... 
  4. ^ 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… 
  5. ^ 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