Maimonides, Miranda, and the Conundrum of Confession: Self-Incrimination in Jewish and American Legal Traditions
This Note argues that both Jewish and American law express skepticism about self-incriminating statements based on concerns of reliability, respect for the individual, and the religious belief that confessions can be offered only to God. However, both traditions also recognize that certain circumstances necessitate the use of self-incriminating statements. This Note compares the two traditions to unearth a deep tension within legal and cultural conceptions of self-incrimination and confession. Specifically, the Note proposes that both Jewish and American law reflect conflicting desires—to simultaneously accept and reject self-incriminating statements. On the one hand, confessions appear to be powerful evidence of guilt, as well as a helpful part of the process of punishing and rehabilitating criminal offenders. On the other hand, confessions uncomfortably turn the accused into his own accuser, raising concerns about whether the confession was the result of unreliable internal self-destructive instincts or external coercion. Future decisions involving self-incriminating statements must be made with an awareness of both the benefits and the hazards of utilizing such statements.