The Language of Consent in Police Encounters
Northwestern University School of Law; American Bar Foundation
J. D. Trout
Loyola University Chicago
OXFORD HANDBOOK ON LINGUISTICS AND LAW, L. Solan, P. Tiersma, eds., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 09-18
American Bar Foundation Research Paper No. 09-04
In this chapter, we examine the nature of conversations in citizen-police encounters in which police seek to conduct a search based on the citizen’s consent. We argue that when police officers ask a person if they can search, citizens often feel enormous pressure to say yes. But judges routinely ignore these pressures, choosing instead to spotlight the politeness and restraint of the officers’ language and demeanor. Courts often analyze the language of police encounters as if the conversation has an obvious, context-free meaning. The pragmatic features of language influence behavior, but courts routinely ignore or deny this fact. Instead, current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence assumes that the authority of armed police officers simply vanishes when they pose their desire to search as a question. We discuss empirical evidence suggesting that people are afraid to decline police officer requests to search, and conclude by discussing the social and psychological cost of the widespread use of consent searches.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 29
Keywords: consent, language, pragmatics, police, search, seizure, Fourth Amendment, consent search
JEL Classification: K49
Date posted: October 8, 2009
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