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Linguistic insights into the investigative interview. Dr Tim Grant Centre for Forensic Linguistics Aston University

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Presentation on theme: "Linguistic insights into the investigative interview. Dr Tim Grant Centre for Forensic Linguistics Aston University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Linguistic insights into the investigative interview. Dr Tim Grant Centre for Forensic Linguistics Aston University Plenary talk delivered to the iIIRG inaugural conference,iIIRG March 2008, University of Derby. Consultancy services PhD Research MSc Forensic Linguistics Professional Courses

2 The study of spoken legal linguistic practices. - Use and comprehension of caution. - Interviewing. - Courtroom linguistics. All can be complicated by interpretation issues and other linguistic vulnerabilities. The study of the nature of written legal texts. - Wills and contracts - Judgements - Statutes Also an interest in language reform. The provision of linguistic evidence. - Evidence of linguistic competence – Should an interpreter have been provided? - Evidence of textual origin – Who wrote a text? - Evidence of textual anomaly – Does a text match claims made of it? What is forensic linguistics?

3 The Police Caution You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994)

4 Elvis Presleys will I, Elvis A. Presley, a resident and citizen of Shelby County, Tennessee, being of sound mind and disposing memory, do hereby make, publish and declare this instrument to be my last will and testament, hereby revoking any and all wills and codicils by me at any time heretofore made. Item I Debts, Expenses and Taxes I direct my Executor, hereinafter named, to pay all of my matured debts and my funeral expenses, as well as the costs and expenses of the administration of my estate, as soon after my death as practicable… Extract from

5 Silly questions in interview P: Did Melvin give you permission to throw the hammer at his front door? P: Um, may sound a bit silly but do you know whose window it is? P: Dyou ave permission to smash it basically? P: …you know its Micks property? P: You know its not yours? Stokoe, E & Edwards, D. (2008) Did you have permission to smash your neighbours door? Silly questions and their answers in police suspect interrogations. Discourse and Society, 10, 1,

6 What is the explanation for this kind of silliness in language? The caution – a communication of rights in language which many cant understand. The will – where the beneficiaries need to pay a lawyer to understand. The interview questions – where everyone knows the answer. In every case the answer is the audience effect. In every case the important audience is the Court.

7 Genesis of a witness statement Study of pilot for tape recording of significant witnesses. Rock identified four tellings: 1.the witness offering – disorganised narrative with few time markers, the sequencing of movements between locations being submerged in the narrative. The interviewer has five turns. 2.co-construction – led by the interviewer with 257 conversational turns. The witness provides answers, mostly referring to time, location and sequencing details. 3.note checking – As well as confirming the details already provided, more detail is sought and added to the draft statement. 4.text construction – interviewer uses notes to compose, out-loud, sentence by sentence, seeking the witnesss consent before actually putting pen to paper. There has been a valuable concentration in research and training on avoiding interviewer contamination of witnesses but Id argue the interviewer has a necessary and vital contribution to the witness testimony in fitting it for its Courtroom function. Rock, F. (2002). The genesis of a witness statement. Forensic Linguistics, 8, 2, 44 – 72.

8 Shipman interviews – Are these silly questions? P: Mrs Mellors body was buried on the 18 th May 1998 at Highfield Cemetery, Stockport. Would you accept that from me? Newbury, P. & Johnson, A. (2006) Suspects resistance to constraining and coercive questioning strategies in the police interview. Speech Language and the Law.13,2, 213–240. P: Id like to put it to you, doctor, that you were the person who administered that lady with the drug, arent you? P: A Home-Office pathologist […] his findings do not support that this lady died of a coronary thrombosis as you diagnosed. Would you like to make any comment on that – that finding?

9 Question types in interview. Confirmation-seeking questions.Information-seeking questions. Degree of coercion increases. Declarative plus tag as request for agreement. Tag question. Bare declarative. Open information-seeking Q. Specific WH-information Q. Either/or information Q. Degree of constraint increases. Newbury, P. & Johnson, A. (2006) Suspects resistance to constraining and coercive questioning strategies in the police interview. Speech Language and the Law.13,2, 213–240.

10 Information sharing in interview. Confirmation-seeking questions. Confirmation seeking questions tend to be the primary source of information sharing with the Court. Declaration + do you agree? You did this + didnt you? You did this. Degree of coercion increases. Declarative plus tag as request for agreement. Tag question. Bare declarative.

11 Information sharing in interview. Information seeking is also information sharing the interviewer may already know, and the suspect may know they know. Tell me what happened? What happened next? Were you incompetent or negligent? Information-seeking questions. Open information-seeking Q. Specific WH-information Q. Either/or information Q. Constraint increases.

12 Power & resistance in interview. Direct resistance P: Who would have had access to your typewriter after Mrs Grundys death? S: The question is when was it returned to the surgery and that I dont know. P: Can I put it directly to you doctor that you forged, you have produced the letters and this will on your typewriter in the hope of benefiting from Mrs Grundys estate. S: Is that a question or a statement? P: I suggest to you that you have injected Mrs Grundy with a fatal overdose of morphine and brought about her death! S: No, and you tell me that people in Hyde dont have access to drugs. I think you should talk to your drug squad. Haworth, K. (2006) The dynamics of power and resistance in police interview discourse. Discourse and Society 17, 6,

13 Loss of control? Haworth, K. (2006) The dynamics of power and resistance in police interview discourse Discourse and Society 17, 6, P: A Home-Office pathologist […] his findings do not support that this lady died of a coronary thrombosis as you diagnosed. Would you like to make any comment on that – that finding? S: Is that a question or a statement? Shipman takes the floor, he takes a long turn telling a story about Mrs Grundys previous medical history and asserts Mrs Grundy was a drug user and accidentally overdosed. P: Are you seriously suggesting that Mrs Grundy, a well-respected lady, who had a decent life, inflicted a fatal overdose upon herself? Are you really suggesting that to us? S: And I ask whether the house was searched? P: Yes. There were no drugs whatsoever that could cause a fatality, according to the findings we have got. Solicitor: Well, when was it searched? P: I haven't got those dates to hand of the search. S: That's quite important.

14 Loss of control? Discursively weak question leads to perhaps the most significant thing that Shipman said to the police in interview (Prosecution, Trial day 2). The loss of control leads to Shipmans counter-narrative which can be tested. It also leads to Shipman going on the offensive – which breaks the institutional rules of the interaction. The interviewer appears to lose the head-butting competition. But the record is very effective in Court. Similar weak questions lead to Shipmans denial that he held dangerous drugs. Haworth, K. (2006) The dynamics of power and resistance in police interview discourse Discourse and Society 17, 6,

15 The interpreted interview Form based interpretation: As Ive explained the interview is being tape-recorded. Jai expliqué cet interview est en train de-dêtre enregistré Meaning based interpretation: What I would - what I would ask you is if you could reply in French so that we can keep the interview completely and utterly in French not to confuse the issue. Pour des raisons de clarté il faut répondre en français Russell, S. (2000) Let me put it simply: The case for a standard translation of the police caution and its explanation. Forensic Linguistics, 7, 1, Unlike all other aspects of the interview, the interpretation is not shared with the court. The implications of this are not just about accuracy: - shielding vs. dislocation. Interpreters are not mere conduits - accuracy of interpretation does not reduce to form-based interpretation.

16 Want to find out more? The Centre for Forensic Linguistics is holding its launch event on Tuesday, 13 th May. Later that evening Malcolm Coulthard is presenting his inaugural lecture as Professor of Forensic Linguistics. Contact me for more details… Dr Tim Grant Consultancy services PhD Research MSc Forensic Linguistics Professional Courses References Haworth, K. (2006) The dynamics of power and resistance in police interview discourse. Discourse and Society 17, 6, Newbury, P. & Johnson, A. (2006) Suspects resistance to constraining and coercive questioning strategies in the police interview. Speech Language and the Law.13,2, 213–240. Rock, F. (2002) The genesis of a witness statement Forensic Linguistics, 8, 2, 44 – 72. Russell, S. (2000) Let me put it simply: the case for a standard translation of the police caution and its explanation. Forensic Linguistics, 7, 1, Stokoe, E & Edwards, D. (2008) Did you have permission to smash your neighbours door? Silly questions and their answers in police suspect interrogations. Discourse and Society, 10, 1,


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