Dead to rights is an idiom that has been in use at least since the mid-1800s. We will examine the meaning of the idiom dead to rights, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
Dead to rights means having overwhelming evidence of someone’s guilt, having irrefutable proof that someone is responsible for something. The idiom dead to rights came into use before the 1850s in the United States. Specifically, it has been traced to the criminal community in New York City. Dead to rights is an example of the use of the word dead to describe something that is certain or unequivocal, seen in phrases such as dead certain, dead broke, dead sure, dead serious, dead drunk. The latter half of the idiom, to rights, means in a proper manner. The idiom is usually rendered with the word have, as in have someone dead to rights. Related phrases are has someone dead to rights, had someone dead to rights.
When all was said and done, cynicism prevailed and Lesnar—who had WWE Universal champion Seth Rollins dead to rights—screamed “Friday!” in reference to the forthcoming Super ShowDown pay-per-view in Saudi Arabia. (Forbes Magazine)
“Because he knows that after over two decades of sexually abusing underage girls, we blew this wide open and have him and his enablers dead to rights.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Trump’s lawyers have formed joint defense agreements with Jerome Corsi, who Mueller appears to have dead to rights on both perjury and attempts to collude with Wikileaks. (New York Magazine)