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Confessions of GuiltFrom Torture to Miranda and Beyond$
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George C. Thomas III and Richard A. Leo

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195338935

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195338935.001.0001

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Early American Interrogation Law

Early American Interrogation Law

(p.67) Chapter 4 Early American Interrogation Law
Confessions of Guilt

George C. Thomas III

Richard A. Leo

Oxford University Press

In America, torture was authorized by magistrates in the Salem witch trials in 1692 but then disappeared. By the late eighteenth century, the Hawkins “no pressure” principle dominated American law as it dominated English law. At least three American jurisdictions had by 1842 statutes requiring magistrates to warn the accused that he need not answer their questions and could consult with counsel. The earliest required warning appears in the 1829 New York collected statutes, probably occasioned by the efforts of a lawyer named John Graham who sought tirelessly to reduce the pressure of the magistrate examinations. Influenced by English cases, American courts went so far as to suppress confessions induced by telling a suspect to tell the truth. The United States Supreme Court embraced the Hawkins rule in 1897 in Bram v. United States. But a concern with rising crime and dangerous cites helped change attitudes toward interrogation in many jurisdictions as the nineteenth century neared its end. John Henry Wigmore’s contributions to the law of evidence, which began in 1899, also played a part. For Wigmore, confessions should be admissible unless there was a fair risk that they might be false.

Keywords:   witch trials, magistrate examinations, confessions, interrogation, torture, Wigmore, Bram, John Graham, Hawkins

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