Thursday Lecture Series: Evidence

The Evidence of Torture

Thursday, The Heyman Center

Jurists have struggled with the definition of evidence longer than
any other discipline. Roman jurists were the first to develop a language
to define evidence in their courts.
It was left to medieval jurists to expand what kinds of evidence
constituted a “full proof”—guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Torture
was also an important part of Roman jurisprudence and was used
under certain circumstances to produce evidence.
Even though the Romans used torture, they distrusted it as a
means of obtaining reliable evidence. On the foundation of Roman
jurisprudence, medieval jurists developed sophisticated concepts
of evidence and explored how and when torture could be used in
court procedure. They did not, however, put torture at the center
of court procedure nor did they use it to produce evidence as
post-Enlightenment governments have done—using it instead as a
way to confirm evidence that had already been presented in court.