The Third Degree


The Third Degree

The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice

Scott D. Seligman

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


May 2018


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2018


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2018


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

2019 Independent Publisher Book Award Winner (Gold) in U.S. History

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 one is innocent 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.


"This is a book with real crime-noir appeal and serious implications. Braiding together the stories of the crime, the accused, and the legal consequences highlights the significance of the grisly events, bringing potboiler intrigue to legal matters. The still-unsolved murder of the three Chinese diplomats is a riveting case, and Seligman deftly investigates the steps taken to protect others from the cruelty and oversight Wan suffered through at the hands of the American policing and legal systems."—Meredith Grahl Counts, Foreword Reviews

"Seligman writes with speed and interest about the often dry world of criminal law. The Third Degree is a fascinating and easy read that can be consumed in one sitting. If you do decide to do so, then you will end the day much smarter, for this book is highly informative."—Benjamin Welton, New York Journal of Books

"A dramatic and insightful read for anybody who cares about human rights and wants to understand the roots of the Miranda warning."—Anna Faktorovich, Pennsylvania Literary Journal

"[The Third Degree] tells a fascinating story and raises some significant questions about the rights and protections of people—especially those regarded as “outsiders”—who are brought into contact with the criminal justice system."—Mary Welek Atwell, Criminal Law and Justice Books

"In his new book, The Third Degree, Seligman traces Wan's case through the various trials and appeals, including Justice Louis Brandeis’ ruling that "a confession obtained by compulsion must be excluded." This ruling, Seligman explained, was a precursor to the Miranda rights that every fan of TV crime stories knows by heart."—Lee Sturtevant, DC Line

"Highly recommended reading for history, legal and true crime buffs."—Sheri Hoyte, Reader Views

"Anyone who has interest in American history, especially within the context of the early immigrant experience or the American judicial system in its formative years, will find this book highly enjoyable. . . . This book is highly informative for those wanting to learn about the history of minority experiences within the United States and the criminal justice system. The Third Degree is a call to remind us of the bias against immigrants and minorities especially in regards to treatment by the police, which is especially relevant to contemporary times. . . . And it also demonstrates how media can be an incredibly powerful tool in shaping a society’s beliefs and biases."—Ashley Harunaga, International Examiner

"Seligman, a historian and writer, presents the story in lucid prose unencumbered by legalisms. Residents of D.C. will enjoy descriptions of places and neighborhoods—the ghosts of some are still discernible a century later."—Dinah Rokach, Beacon

“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

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
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
Selected Bibliography


2019 Independent Publisher Book Award Winner (Gold) in U.S. History  

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