Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library


Richard A. Leo
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Harvard University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Read him his rights. We all recognize this line from cop dramas. But what happens afterward? In this book, Leo sheds light on a little-known corner of our criminal justice system--the police interrogation. An important study of the criminal justice system, this book provides interesting answers and raises some unsettling questions.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-03370-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Police interrogation is an important and inherently fascinating subject for social scientists and legal scholars. The process of modern interrogation—as well as the confessions it often produces, the crimes it sometimes solves, and the competing interests and ideologies it implicates—raises a multitude of important issues: How do police elicit confessions from reluctant suspects? How should they be permitted to interrogate in a democratic society that needs both crime control and due process to maintain public confidence in its institutions of criminal justice? How should law and public policy regulate police interrogation to accommodate the competing interests and values...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Police Interrogation and the American Adversary System
    (pp. 9-40)

    America is known for its adversary system of criminal justice. Comparative legal scholars tell us that we have the most adversarial criminal justice system in the world (Pizzi, 1999; Kagan, 2001). At the same time, Americans repeatedly tell themselves—in the print media, on television shows, and even in scholarly publications—that we have the best criminal justice system of any country (see, e.g., Dershowitz, 1982). Yet both popular and academic discussions often fail to examine the underlying structure of our adversary system; criminologists, in particular, frequently fail to recognize how our adversarial institutions both enable and constrain the quest...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Third Degree
    (pp. 41-77)

    On August 1, 1930, Christine Colletti was murdered and left lying on the side of an abandoned road with five bullet wounds (Wickersham Commission Files). Shortly after learning the next day of his wife’s death, Tony Colletti, an eighteen-year-old Cleveland resident, accompanied plainclothes detectives to police headquarters for what he was told would be routine questioning. During the car ride to the station, Detectives Corso and Welch told Colletti that they knew “what really happened” and instructed Colletti to “come clean” and tell them about the murder. Colletti responded—as he would many times over the next two days—that...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Professionalizing Police Interrogation
    (pp. 78-118)

    By exposing the practice and prevalence of third-degree methods in station houses across America, the 1931 Wickersham Commission Report had a profound impact on public attitudes toward the police. “The informed and articulate public was no longer willing to tolerate the misconduct that had been part of American policing for so long,” historian Samuel Walker (1980: 175) observed. The report, as we have seen, also had a profound impact on police themselves. Though many angrily disputed its findings, police reformers understood that the third degree had become a black mark on the image of policing. Following the report, police were...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Structure and Psychology of American Police Interrogation
    (pp. 119-164)

    Police portray modern interrogation as an informal give-and-take “interview” that involves little pressure and results in voluntary confessions. The image of the third-degree inquisitor has been replaced by that of the neutral information collector who is concerned only with discovering the truth. But psychological interrogation is not a simple or unbiased information-collecting exercise. It is a strategic, multistage, goal-directed, stress-driven exercise in persuasion and deception, one designed to produce a very specific set of psychological effects and reactions in order to move the suspect from denial to admission. Confessions, especially to serious crimes, are rarely made spontaneously. Rather, they are...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Constructing Culpability
    (pp. 165-194)

    It is often assumed that once the detective has moved the suspect to say the words “I did it,” the interrogation is effectively over. Analytically, it would be more precise to say that those words signal that thepreadmissionportion of the interrogation process is over. The preadmission portion is the focus of most social psychological research on the methods of social influence and their effects during interrogation (Ofshe and Leo, 1997b; Davis and O’Donahue, 2003; Kassin and Gudjonsson, 2004). It is also the focus of pretrial suppression motions in which prosecutors and defense attorneys argue over whether the interrogation...

  10. CHAPTER 6 False Confessions
    (pp. 195-236)

    In 1998 two young boys—ages seven and eight—in Chicago were charged with murdering an eleven-year-old girl named Ryan Harris who had been badly beaten around the head. Her underpants had been stuffed into her mouth and she appeared to have been sexually assaulted. After an unrecorded interrogation, the two boys had “confessed” to hitting Harris in the head with a brick (and then stuffing leaves and grass in her nose) in order to steal her bicycle. Largely because of the boys’ ages, the case attracted national media attention: the country was horrified that two prepubescent boys were capable...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Miscarriages of Justice
    (pp. 237-268)

    The study of wrongful convictions has a long history in America. For more than eight decades, writers—mostly lawyers, journalists, and activists—have documented numerous convictions of the innocent and described their causes and consequences (Borchard, 1932; Radin, 1964; Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer, 2000). Yet only recently, after many years of neglect, has a critical mass of social scientists emerged to research the problem (Westervelt and Humphrey, 2001; Forst, 2004; Leo, 2005). This heightened scholarly interest is undoubtedly related to technological and political developments. With the advent of DNA technology and its application to criminal cases, numerous prisoners have been...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Policy Directions
    (pp. 269-317)

    In this book, I have examined the evolution, structure, and practice of police interrogation in the American criminal justice system. I have argued that police interrogators act like highly partisan adversaries in order to manage the contradictions underlying interrogation in America. The guiding principle of the American adversary system is that every actor should pursue his or her own self-interest. Yet it is almost never in a person’s self-interest to participate in an activity that will lead to his incrimination, prosecution, or deprivation of liberty. To solve crimes at a socially acceptable rate, however, American police need to enlist the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 318-328)

    There have been three distinct, if overlapping, eras in the history of American police interrogation. Each has been characterized by different assumptions about the practice and problems of interrogation and confession-taking, as well as the best regulatory solutions. The first was the era of the third degree. As we have seen, this era was characterized by the widespread and systematic use of physical coercion and psychological duress to elicit confessions and punish suspects. The symbol that best captures the era of the third degree is the rubber hose or perhaps the blackjack. This era was characterized not only by routine...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 331-334)
  15. References
    (pp. 335-360)
  16. Index
    (pp. 361-374)