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Speaking of Crime

The Language of Criminal Justice

Why do so many people voluntarily consent to searches by have the police search their person or vehicle when they know that they are carrying contraband or evidence of illegal activity? Does everyone understand the Miranda warning? How well can people recognize a voice on tape? Can linguistic experts identify who wrote an anonymous threatening letter?

Speaking of Crime answers these questions and examines the complex role of language within our criminal justice system. Lawrence M. Solan and Peter M. Tiersma compile numerous cases, ranging from the Lindbergh kidnapping to the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton to the JonBenét Ramsey case, that provide real-life examples of how language functions in arrests, investigations, interrogations, confessions, and trials. In a clear and accessible style, Solan and Tiersma show how recent advances in the study of language can aid in understanding how legal problems arise and how they might be solved.

With compelling discussions current issues and controversies, this book is a provocative state-of-the-art survey that will be of enormous value to legal scholars and professionals throughout the criminal justice system.

264 pages | 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Chicago Series in Law and Society

Language and Linguistics: Language and Law

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society, Legal Thought


"Speaking of Crime introduces insights drawn from linguistics and psychology-of-language research that throw light on a number of issues in our criminal process. It does an excellent job of synthesizing and reviewing the relevant literature and sets out interesting ’true crime’ case illustrations of the lessons to be learned from the science of language, many of which have yet to be properly taken into account by the legal process."

Michael Risinger, Seton Hall Law School

"Solan and Tiersma bring a thorough knowledge of the law together with their expertise in the language sciences to a critical analysis of how language is used—and misused—in the criminal justice system. This book is a must for both scholars and practitioners."

Sam Glucksberg, Department of Psychology, Princeton University

"Speaking of Crime deepens our understanding not only of how language and cognition work in the legal system, but also of the nature of erroneous judgments and wrongful convictions in the American criminal justice system. Solan and Tiersma’s analysis advances our understanding of how to achieve the system’s most fundamental goals--improving the fairness of legal procedures while better separating the innocent from the guilty. This book deserves therefore to be read not only by linguists and criminologists, but also by judges and policy makers."

Richard Leo, Department of Criminology, University of California, Irvine

"An important book in the emergent field of language and the law, Speaking of Crime is essential reading for everyone whose interests intersect these areas: judges, attorneys, legal scholars, and sociolinguists. Solan and Tiersma look at a large number of important cases--from the Lindbergh kidnapping to the Clinton impeachment--to argue that a more sophisticated understanding of the workings of language by the professionals involved might have created very different, and more just, outcomes. Their discussion of the ways in which linguistic analysis affects our understanding of rights, crimes, and verdicts should be read by everyone."

Robin Lakoff, Department of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley

"Speaking of Crime is an engaging, insightful and gracefully written tour of how language and cognitive psychology influence criminal law doctrine and practice. It belongs in the library of anyone who teaches, studies, or practices criminal justice."

Jerome H. Skolnick, Center for Research on Crime and Justice, New York University School of Law

"In this fascinating study, Lawrence Solan and Peter Tiersma lead readers on an intriguing journey into this unexplored terrain. . . . The text focuses on discrete legal issues and seeks to demonstrate for each how the study of language can shed light on the operation of the criminal justice system. . . . The authors’ brisk analysis demonstates that incorrect preconceptions or conclusions regarding language often lead to results that are not supported by the evidence. For those convinced of the need to reform the criminal justice system, these observations will provide yet more ammunition, as well as engrossing anecdote.."

Harvard Law Review

"The basic argument is that scientific research in linguistics, and to a lesser extent in cognitive psychology, can assist law enforcement, attorneys, judges, and juries in arriving at more reliable determinations of guilt and innocence. . . . Reading this book is a good place for students and professionals to begin thinking about how a deeper understanding of the science of language can improve the performance of the criminal justice system."

Mary W. Atwell | Law & Politics Review

Table of Contents

Part I - A Good Time to Study the Language of Criminal Justice
1. Language and the Criminal Law
The Language of Police and Suspects
Linguistic Evidence
Crimes of Language
Some Goals and Limitations
2. Linguistics in the Law
The Subsystems of Language
Word Meaning: Two Ways of Thinking
Discourse and Inferences from Context
Linguistics in the Courts
Linguistics and the Admissibility of Expert Evidence in American Courts
Part II Gathering the Evidence
3. "Consensual" Searches
The Bustamonte Case
Requests versus Commands
Racial Profiling
4. Interrogation, Confession, and the Right to Counsel
Invoking the Right to Counsel
The Meaning of "Interrogation"
Interrogation and the Problem of False Confessions
5. Understanding Miranda
The Rise of Miranda
Reading Rights
Suspects with Low Intelligence or Mental Problems
Suspects Whose Native Language Is Not English
Deaf Defendants
How Can Comprehension Be Improved?
Part III - Linguistic Evidence in Court
6. Exact Words
Forget about It: Human Memory for Verbatim Speech
The Legal System’s Response: Substance Is Good Enough
Jailhouse Informants
Language Crimes without the Language
7. Who Said That?
Legal Standards for Identifying Speakers
Voice Recognition Research and the Reliability of Identifications
Expert Speaker Identification
8. Who Wrote That?
Hauptmann and the Document Examiners
Leaving It to the Jury
The Return of the Experts?
Some Promise for an Improved Science of Authorship Attribution
Some Easier Cases
Part IV - Crimes of Language
9. Solicitation, Conspiracy, Bribery
10. Threats
What Constitutes a Threat?
Indirect and Ambiguous Threats
Political Hyperbole
11. Perjury
The Bronston Case
Did Clinton Lie?
Perjury and Lying
12. Where Do We Go from Here?
Law Enforcement
Legislatures and the Executive Branch
Linguists, Psychologists, and Other Scholars

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