Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice
Peter Tiersma and Lawrence Solan, SPEAKING OF CRIME: THE LANGUAGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, Cambridge University Press, 2005
Posted: 11 May 2005
This book investigates the many areas in which language becomes intertwined with the criminal justice system, often in surprising ways. After a brief introduction to the field of linguistics and some relevant rules of evidence, the book goes on to use advances in linguistics and psychology to explore riddles and questions such as these: * Why do people voluntarily consent to a search by the police when they know they are carrying drugs or other contraband, and what are the implications of this practice for racial profiling? (chapter 3) * Why do some courts permit the police to ignore a suspect's requests for a lawyer during interrogation, despite a constitutional mandate that police must stop questioning a suspect who invokes his right to counsel? (chapter 4) * How do various linguistic circumstances make a person more likely to confess to a crime he didn't commit? (chapter 5) * How reliable is testimony about prior acts of speech in light of the fact that people cannot generally remember the words that were spoken in a particular situation? (chapter 6) * How well can people identify a suspect from his or her voice, and are experts or machines any better at it? (chapter 7) * Can experts in linguistics or stylistics identify a defendant as the author of a document, like a threatening letter, by comparing the style of the letter to that of documents known to have been written by the defendant? (chapter 8) * What exactly does it mean to solicit someone to commit a crime? (chapter 9) * When is an utterance a threat, and how are threats different from warnings, predictions, political hyperbole, etc.? (chapter 10) * What is it that makes an answer to a question a lie, and did Clinton commit perjury when he swore under oath that he did not have "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky? (chapter 11)
In the course of discussing these issues, the book describes an array of fascinating cases in which these questions have played an often pivotal role, including the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the capture of the Unabomber, the investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey murder, the beheading of King Charles I of England, threats to kill the president, the Clinton impeachment proceedings, and many more ordinary crimes.
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