The third degree is a euphemism for the "inflicting of pain, physical or mental, to extract confessions or statements". In 1931 the Wickersham Commission found that use of the third degree was widespread in the United States. No one knows the origin of the term but there are several hypotheses. The use of the third degree was technically made illegal after the Wickersham report. 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's equally capable of extracting a false confession through coercion when abused by police.
- The third degree of Freemasonry and the rigorous procedures to advance to that level.
- The term may have been coined by Richard H. Sylvester, the Chief of Police for Washington, DC in 1910. He divided police procedures into the arrest as the first degree, transportation to jail as the second degree, and interrogation as the third degree.
- 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.
- Jerome Herbert Skolnick (1994). Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force. Simon and Schuster. p. 43. ISBN 0029291534. http://books.google.com/books?id=Z-Y8fbVSBe0C&pg=PA43&dq=Richard+Sylvester+%22third+degree%22&lr=&client=firefox-a. "... 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 ..."
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- "'Third Degree' Not Brutal Washington's Police Head Tells Academy of Social and Political Science." (PDF). New York Times. April 9, 1910. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=990CEED71430E233A2575AC0A9629C946196D6CF. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
- Darius M. Rejali (2007). Torture and Democracy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691114226. http://books.google.com/books?id=L8QLvrX-iL0C&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=major+richard+Sylvester++police&source=bl&ots=1JdlZ7KUuo&sig=kRKVQEp9wtztPhXELrTWYV56zkU&hl=en&ei=cPSqSbvULo_ftgeU6J3zDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result. "The phrase was originally coined by Major Richard Sylvester of Washington, ... Many American police chiefs denied that police practiced the third degree. ..."
- Richard H. Sylvester (1974). Administration of justice in the United States. American Academy of Political and Social Science. p. 18. ISBN 0405061366. http://books.google.com/books?id=BROH8UyXu1YC&pg=PA16&dq=Richard+Sylvester+police&lr=&client=firefox-a.
- Ken Alder (2007). The Lie Detectors. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743259882. http://books.google.com/books?id=yE4eebdlNF0C&pg=PA20&dq=%22third+degree%22+coined&client=firefox-a. "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 ..."