The Third Degree

The Third Degree

The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice

Scott D. Seligman

216 pages
25 photographs, 7 illustrations, 1 chronology, index

Hardcover

May 2018

978-1-61234-994-7

$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Law and Order, you can probably recite your Miranda rights by heart. But you likely don’t know that these rights had their roots in the case of a young Chinese man accused of murdering three diplomats in Washington DC in 1919. A frantic search for clues and dogged interrogations by gumshoes erupted in sensational news and editorial coverage and intensified international pressure on the police to crack the case.

Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, and part landmark legal case, The Third Degree is the true story of a young man’s abuse by the Washington police and an arduous, seven-year journey through the legal system that drew in Warren G. Harding, William Howard Taft, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John W. Davis, and J. Edgar Hoover. The ordeal culminated in a sweeping Supreme Court ruling penned by Justice Louis Brandeis that set the stage for the Miranda warning many years later. Scott D. Seligman argues that the importance of the case hinges not on the defendant’s guilt or innocence but on the imperative that a system that presumes innocence until proven guilty provides protections against coerced confessions.

Today, when the treatment of suspects between arrest and trial remains controversial, when bias against immigrants and minorities in law enforcement continues to deny them their rights, and when protecting individuals from compulsory self-incrimination is still an uphill battle, this century-old legal spellbinder is a cautionary tale that reminds us how we got where we are today and makes us wonder how far we have yet to go.

 

Author Bio

Scott D. Seligman is a writer and historian. He is the author of several books, including Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York’s Chinatown and The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Seattle Times, and the China Business Review, among other publications. He has worked as a legislative assistant to a member of the U.S. Congress, lobbied the Chinese government on behalf of American business, and managed a multinational public relations agency in China.

Praise

“In the tradition of such classics as Gideon’s Trumpet, The Third Degree provides the human story behind a seminal Supreme Court decision. Scott D. Seligman, a meticulous researcher and an excellent writer, fills gaps in our knowledge with a story that has never been told before. Anyone interested in modern American history, the lives of early immigrants, or the justice system in its formative years will find this book of interest.”—Ira Belkin, executive director of the U.S. Asia Institute and adjunct professor at New York University School of Law
 

“Scott D. Seligman has recovered from history a ghastly true crime from 1919 that had a significant impact on the direction of the U.S. justice system. . . . Seligman’s deep knowledge of China, the history of America’s Chinese communities, and the U.S. legal system combine to reveal this story that was a landmark case in how we protect minorities and the weak within the law and why we must guard hard-won legal protections.”—Paul French, author of the Edgar Award–winning Midnight in Peking
 

“With The Third Degree, Seligman finds himself the bona fide creator of the Chinese American sublime. One marvels at Seligman’s ability to weave complex, nuanced, unpublished research—often found in multiple dialects—into a moreish masterpiece.”—Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
Dramatis Personae
Prologue: “The Best of Spirits Prevailed”
1. Three Men in a Tub
2. An Unwelcome Guest
3. Murder at the Mission
4. Incommunicado
5. Interrogation
6. Confession
7. Indictment and Trial
8. Appeal
9. The Third Degree
10. The Supreme Court
11. Retrial
12. Freedom
13. The Wickersham Report
14. The Road to Miranda
Epilogue
Chronology
Acknowledgments
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

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