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Inbau, Fred E., 1909-1998



  • Existence: 1909 - 1998


Fred Edward Inbau was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 27, 1909. He came to Northwestern as a research assistant in the Scientific Crime Detection Lab in 1933, becoming the director of the Lab in 1938. Inbau left NU briefly, but returned as a law professor in 1945 and remained until his retirement in 1977. In 1966 he founded Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. Inbau was a prolific writer, publishing more than 50 journal articles and 18 books.

Inbau attended Tulane University, receiving his B.S. in 1930 and his LL.B. in 1932, and served as the editor-in-chief of the Tulane Law Review. Inbau continued his education at Northwestern University School of Law, receiving his LL.M. in 1933 and beginning a career-long association with the School of Law. Inbau spent thirty-seven of the next forty-four years of his life at Northwestern University.

Inbau's first position at Northwestern, in 1933, was as a research assistant in the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (SCDL), one of the country's first crime laboratories. In 1929, when firearms expert Col. Calvin Goddard was called in to help the Chicago Police Department identify the bullets used in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, NU Law School dean emeritus John Henry Wigmore suggested that a permanent laboratory be established to examine and preserve criminal evidence. In 1931 the SCDL became a department of the School of Law, offering practical experience in identifying firearms, finger-prints, and explosives; detecting forgeries; conducting polygraph tests; and preserving evidence through photography, chemical analysis and other techniques. Inbau held a joint appointment, working for the SCDL and teaching in the School of Law, until 1938, when he was named Director of the SCDL. In that year, Northwestern sold the Laboratory to the Chicago Police Department; Inbau stayed on as Director until 1941. (The Crime Detection Lab continued to function as part of the CPD until 1996.)

After leaving the SCDL, Inbau served in private practice as a trial attorney with Lord, Bissell and Kadyk until 1945. He returned to Northwestern University in 1945 as a professor of law. During his early years at Northwestern, Inbau had established the Annual Short Course for Prosecuting Attorneys, the oldest continuing legal education course in the country, which offered its first session in 1936. In 1958, he initiated the Short Course for Defense Layers in Criminal Cases. He was named John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law in 1974.

Many of Inbau's students went on to prominent careers in law and politics, including noted prosecutor and Illinois governor James R. Thompson (with whom Inbau co-authored the casebook Criminal Law and its Administration). The June, 1977, issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology commemorated Inbau's retirement with a series of articles by former students and faculty colleagues, including a contribution by Yale Kamisar of the University of Michigan Law School, who had long enjoyed a friendly disagreement with Inbau over Miranda v. Arizona (384 US 436, 1966).

Like his mentor, John H. Wigmore, Inbau was most concerned with evidence, and focused his research and writing on gathering and analyzing evidence scientifically. Inbau's description of the work of the SCDL reflects his own views on the use of scientific methods: “every step in the promotion of scientific crime detection is a step towards the abolition of cruel and ineffective methods of establishing criminal identity, and also a step towards the realization of criminal trial unhampered by technical procedure and unreliable evidence” (Fred E. Inbau, “Science versus the Criminal,” NU Alumni News [January, 1935]: 25). In his quest to obtain accurate evidence and un-coerced confessions, he was an early proponent of the use of the polygraph, and, later in his life, a vehement opponent of Miranda. His opposition to Miranda, expressed in magazine articles, debates, and speeches, was based on his belief that the decision reduced a policeman's chances of obtaining a confession at the scene of the crime. In 1966, Inbau founded the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE) to file amicus curiae briefs in cases involving restrictions on such police actions as search and seizure and, in particular, cases hinging on the application of Miranda. Like much of Inbau's work after 1966, the AELE was intended to counteract Miranda and, it was hoped, lead to its repeal.

Among many other positions, Inbau served as an officer and director of the Chicago Crime Commission and president of the Illinois Academy of Criminology (1951-52) and of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (1955-56). He was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1965-1971, and of the Journal of Police Science and Administration, 1973-1978. In addition to the AELE, Inbau also founded the Business Integrity Institute (BII), which was formed in 1989 to lobby against laws restricting employers' ability to hire and fire at will.

Inbau's extensive publications include over fifty journal articles and eighteen books (some as co-author, and many of which went into multiple editions) in the fields of criminal law and scientific investigation in criminal cases. His first published book, Lie Detection and Criminal Interrogation (1942), was updated twice. He co-authored many casebooks and initiated the “Inbau Law Enforcement Series.” Criminal Interrogations and Confessions (first edition 1966, 3rd edition 1986) was translated into Chinese and Japanese. Inbau also had a long association with polygraph expert John E. Reid (1910-1982), whom he met when Reid joined the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in 1940. Reid formed his own detective agency, John E. Reid and Associates, in 1947. He and Inbau collaborated on a number of books, including Truth and Deception: The Polygraph Technique (1966; 2nd edition, 1977).

After retirement, Inbau continued his research and writing until his death on May 25, 1998. Inbau married Ruth L. Major in 1935; they had two children, W. Robert and Louise. The Inbaus were divorced in 1963. In 1964, Inbau married Jane Hanchett Schoenewald, who died in 1991.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Fred E. Inbau (1909-1998) Papers

Identifier: 17/28

The Fred E. Inbau Papers, spanning the years 1930 to 1998, document his work with the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, as a professor at Northwestern University' s Law School, as an opponent of the Miranda Act, and as a prolific writer and speaker.

Dates: 1930 - 1998; Other: Majority of material found within 1970 - 1995