UC Law Constitutional Quarterly


Frank Riebli


The author investigates the Supreme Court's allusions to the ancient English Court of Star Chamber. Throughout its history, the Supreme Court has used the spectre of Star Chamber to develop at least three themes in its Self-Incrimination Clause jurisprudence. Star Chamber appears as a symbol of brutality, the end of a slippery slope towards which our criminal justice system would drift but for the Self-Incrimination Clause's protections. Star Chamber is frequently used to describe the boundaries of the "testimonial evidence" doctrine, and thereby the scope and policies underlying the Self-Incrimination Clause. Finally, Star Chamber has appeared as a symbol of political and religious persecution, against which the Self-Incrimination Clause protects. The author concludes that the Supreme Court frequently misuses Star Chamber's image. As a symbol of brutality, Star Chamber is unremarkable in comparison to other courts of its day. Star Chamber's appearance in "testimonial evidence" doctrine cases shows the Supreme Court's misunderstanding of Star Chamber and the legal context in which it existed. However, the Supreme Court uses Star Chamber correctly as an enduring symbol of the dangers of institutionalizing ideology.