Language as Evidence: Forensic Linguistics

Course time: 
Tuesday/Friday 11:00 AM-12:50 PM

Language as Evidence: Forensic Linguistics Robert A. Leonard, Hofstra University and Tanya K. Christensen, University of Copenhagen 1. Course description This course in forensic linguistics has an interdisciplinary focus on the intersection of linguistic analysis and the realities of police work, court procedures, case law, intelligence analysis, and the US Constitution. Forensic linguistics applies linguistic theory, research and methodology to issues of the law. Forensic linguistics augments investigative and legal analysis by applying rigorous principles of language analysis to linguistic evidence, and thus seeks to help further the cause of justice, whether consulting for the defense or for the prosecution. We draw on well-established linguistic theories and analytical tools, including variationist sociolinguistics, functionalist semantics, pragmatic inference, schemata, the cooperative principle, speech events, conversational strategies, topic management and support, narrative construction, and speech acts. As well as being introduced to theory and methodology relevant for forensic linguistics, students will replicate analyses of real-world criminal, civil, and intelligence cases in which language itself was crucial evidence. These cases are all ones on which one or both of the two instructors consulted, and involve: • death threat and suicide letters • authorship analyses in murder cases • linguistic concepts in trademark cases such as Apple v. Microsoft • language crimes—crimes committed by uttering language—such as o bribery o extortion o solicitation to murder o perjury • the language of interrogations and investigative interviews • false confessions Students are also introduced to the Forensic Linguistics Capital Case Innocence Project. Through this project linguistics interns, both graduate and undergraduate, work with law students towards a reanalysis of language evidence that caused life imprisonment or placed people on death row. Warning: some case studies contain very strong language, themes, and distressing, violent, and gruesome details of crimes and pathological motivations that will not be possible for students to avoid seeing, hearing, or analyzing. 2. Motivation for the course Language is pervasive in people’s dealings with the law. The U.S. legal system is based upon language and its use: to write contracts, promulgate laws, question suspects, give testimony, confess and deny. Indeed, what in the law is not language? Nonetheless, much of the information conveyed by language is overlooked or misinterpreted by legal practitioners, sometimes with dire consequences for victims or defendants. Among current concerns in Forensic Linguistics are translation issues for people with a limited command of English, threat assessment of possible domestic and foreign terrorists online, wrongful incarceration due to false confessions or misinterpretation of linguistic evidence, and how to address courts’ acceptance of linguistic analyses. This course is co-taught by Professor Robert A. Leonard, Hofstra University, who has extensive experience as a consultant and expert witness in U.S. and foreign cases (qualified under both Daubert and Frye standards as an expert in linguistics in five Federal District courts, 12 US States, and two international tribunals), and Associate Professor Tanya K. Christensen, University of Copenhagen, who is introducing Forensic Linguistics as an academic and applied discipline in Denmark, consulting for police and private clients as well as teaching the subject at BA and MA levels. 3. Course topics and readings CLASS AGENDA Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Session 1. Background, theory and methodology. FL as Applied (Socio)linguistics. Overlapping fields of research (corpus lx, dialectology, pragmatics, computational lx, etc.). Current applications within civil law, criminal investigation and intelligence. Interrogations and deception. (Critique of) the Reid Technique as a means of obtaining confessions. Truthful and deceptive language in witness statements. Language crimes. The importance of analyzing context, agenda, conversa-tional strategies. The problem of ascribing intentions to other people based only on language use. Linguistic-demographic profiling and authorship analysis. Linguistic variation as a clue to writers’ background. Comparing linguistic features across sets of documents. Session 2. Exemplary analyses from the literature. Hands-on analyses of authentic case material. Civil law: Trademark cases. Apple v. Microsoft/ Amazon. Pragmatics; John Doe case. Miscarriage of justice: False confessions. Kassin’s studies of false confessions; Leonard, Shuy and Wald’s additional categories. Cubie case. Lavoff case. Criminal law: Solicitation, bribery, perjury. Winter case. Syrian warrior case. Investigation: Profiling and authorship. Hummert murder case. Masters murder case. Threat-by-proxy case. Case examples for which students will replicate analysis • The relationship between linguistic measures of generic and other concepts, and the trademark concepts of generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary, and fanciful: Apple v. Microsoft, and Apple v. Amazon trademark cases regarding the mark APP STORE. • Audio evidence—pragmatic analysis of identification of assailant; coordination with an acoustic engineer: The 2010 case of John Doe, who claims that a conversation and acts recorded by a wired cooperating witness were wrongly used against him in a multiple felony case including attempted murder. • Dialect and community of practice informs the authorship analysis of a putative confession: 18-year-old Antwaun Cubie denies having authored his confession; he maintains that he was interrogated and beaten and told to sign blank forms if he wanted to be allowed to make a phone call, and next saw those forms with a confession typed over his signature. The Forensic Linguistics Capital Case Innocence Project reanalyzed the confession. • Did a suspect understand his Miranda warnings; did this suspect confess? Yuri Lavoff (pseudonym) was interrogated. Were his Miranda warnings valid and did he, as police claimed, actually confess to the crime. • Linguistic meaning, pragmatics, context and power: semantic analysis of evidence to aid the trier-of-fact in weighing “intent”. Police discover that just prior to a crash, 16-year-old Justine Winter texted her boyfriend messages containing “crash my car” and “suicide” and is charged with deliberate double homicide in adult court; the prosecution asks for a sentence of two hundred years. • Pragmatic and semantic analysis of Skype Instant Messages in Syrian Warrior case involving two men regarding the potential planning of a return to Syria to fight for ISIS. Testimony focused on implicit meanings and the extent to which sequential and other contextual analysis could render them explicit. • What demographic and other features may be discerned from a stalker letter and a serial killer letter? The murder of Charlene Hummert occurred between these two letters, one threatening her death and the other taking responsibility for it. • Authorship analysis; community of practice as a potentially crucial element in analysis: The 2011 hearing regarding the death penalty appeal, and attempt to obtain a new trial, of Jarvis Masters, who spent 21 years in solitary confinement on San Quentin’s death row, sentenced to death in the 1985 assassination of a San Quentin prison guard highlights. Prison kites are compared to known writings of the subject against the backdrop of a corpus of writings from Masters’ group, San Quentin’s Black Guerilla Family. • Authorship analysis of 19 threat-by-proxy letters sent to authorities, business associates and friends and families of three victims. How are indications of masquerading as other writers handled in analysis? Does sociolectal variation tie letters together or set them apart? Example literature Baffy, M. & A. Marsters. 2015. The constructed voice in courtroom cross-examination. The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 22(2). 143-165 Benneworth-Gray, K. 2014. ‘Are you going to tell me the truth today?’ Invoking obligations of honesty in police--suspect interviews. International Journal of Speech, Language & the Law, 21(2). 251-277. Colwell, K., C. K. Hiscock & A. Memon. 2002. Interviewing techniques and the assessment of statement credibility. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16. 287-300. Coulthard, M. 1994. On the use of corpora in the analysis of forensic texts, Forensic Linguistics 1. 27-44 Coulthard, M. 2004. Author identification, idiolect, and linguistic uniqueness. Applied linguistics, 25(4). 431-447. Gnisci, A., & Pontecorvo, C. 2004. The organization of questions and answers in the thematic phases of hostile examination: Turn-by-turn manipulation of meaning. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(5), 965-995. Grant, T. 2010. Text 4N6. Coulthard & Johnson (red.) The Routledge handbook of forensic linguistics. Routledge. 508-522. Haworth, K. 2006. The Dynamics of Power and Resistance in Police Interview Discourse. Discourse & Society, 17(6): 739-759. Heritage, J. & S. Clayman. 2010. Talk in Action: Interactions, Identities, and Institutions. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. Chapter 12. Kassin, S.M. 2008. Confession evidence: Commonsense myths and misconceptions. Criminal Justice and Behavior 35(10). 1309-1322. Komter, M.L. 1994. Accusations and defences in courtroom interaction. Discourse & Society, 5(2). 165-187. Labov, W. 2006. The Transformation of Experience in Narrative. In Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland (red.). The Discourse Reader, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge. 214-226. McCornack, S. A. 1992. Information manipulation theory. Communications Monographs 59(1). 1-16. Musil, Stephen.2011. Apple slams Microsoft’s ‘App Store’ Challenge. CNet. (Link: Picornell, I. 2013. Analysing deception in written witness statements. Linguistic Evidence in Security, Law and Intelligence, 1(1). 41-50. Shuy, R.W. 1996. Language Crimes. Oxford: Blackwell Shuy, R.W. 1998. The Language of Confession, Interrogation and Deception. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Shuy, R.W. 2008. Fighting over Words: language and civil law cases. Oxford University Press. Solan, L.M., & P.M. Tiersma. 2010. Speaking of crime: The language of criminal justice. University of Chicago Press. Stokoe, E. & D. Edwards. 2008. Did you have permission to smash your neighbour's door? ‘Silly questions’ and their answers in police—suspect interrogations. Discourse Studies 10(1). 89-111. Svartvik, J. 1968. The Evans Statements: A Case for Forensic Linguistics. Gothenburg Studies in English 20. Gothenburg University Press. ( 4. Synergistic activities We suggest that students taking Language as Evidence: Forensic Linguistics might also wish to apply for one or more of the following, and we would be happy to collaborate with any of the below-mentioned teachers on curricula, etc. • Introduction to Pragmatics — Gregory Ward, Northwestern U and Betty Birner, Northern Illinois U. • Introduction to Semantics- William Ladusaw, University of California, Santa Cruz • Introduction to Sociolinguistics – Penelope Eckert, Stanford University • Introduction to Computational Linguistics – Sandra Kuebler, Indiana University • Introduction to Discourse Analysis - Barbara Johnstone, Carnegie-Mellon University • Field Methods - Lenore Grenoble, University of Chicago • Dialectology, Joe Salmons - University of Wisconsin, Madison • African American English – Lisa Green, University of Massachusetts, Amherst