In the American legal system, as in the Israeli, the confessions of perpetrators tend to be preferred as evidence of crimes. Among the problems with this approach is the danger that confessions might be coerced. By contrast, the Talmud states that a person’s testimony against himself is ipso facto inadmissible, thus avoiding the problem of coercion. However, writes Shlomo Brody, rabbinic jurisprudence provides ample exceptions:
[M]edieval and modern Jewish communities that retained semi-autonomous penal systems would regularly convict criminals based in part on confessions. [Medieval Spanish scholars] such as Rabbi Shlomo ibn Adret and Rabbi Nissim of Gerona asserted that Jewish law recognized the right of a king or government to administer a justice system according to societal needs, [even if these contradicted the letter of talmudic law].
As the Talmud [itself] states, sometimes the court can punish in spite of the law. Otherwise, it [might] be impossible to convict any criminals. . . . Given this [opinion], could confessions be accepted even if coerced from the defendant? [The] talmudic evidence remains somewhat contradictory.
On the one hand, there is recognition that coerced admissions cannot be taken seriously. On the other hand, there seem to be cases in which force [was] used to confirm the guilt of certain suspects.
Commentators debate whether in these cases actual physical violence was used or if mere threats or other forms of intimidation were employed. In any case, within medieval rabbinic literature, there are sporadic sources that indicate the use of physical force, with some figures explicitly asserting that such capabilities remain within a judge’s purview.