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Coerced Confessions: The Discourse of Bilingual Police Interrogations

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This series contributes to the development of new approaches in the sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological study of social issues and social problems. The series contains critical analyses of language and power in social processes and highlights substantive, theoretical, and methodological dimensions of sociolinguistic research. It will be of use in both undergraduate and graduate teaching.

The book presents a discourse analysis of police interrogations involving U.S. Hispanic suspects accused of crimes. The study is unique in that it concentrates on interrogations involving suspects whose first language is not English and police officers who often have a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish. The volume examines the pitfalls of using police officers as interpreters at custodial interrogations.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Susan Berk-Seligson, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

Chapter 1 Introduction: language and institutional power 1

1 Coerced confessions and wrongful convictions 3

2 Explanations for wrongful convictions 4

3 Police-induced false confessions 8

4 Incipient bilingualism and coerced confessions: when the suspect has limited proficiency in the language of the law 10

5 Government response to the need for interpreting/translating services in the administration of justice 11

6 Organization of the book 13

Chapter 2 Interpreting for the police: issues in pre-trial phases of the judicial process 15

1 The interpreting continuum 16

2 The problem of conflict of interest 18

3 Interpreters for the police: a review of appellate cases 23

3.1 Police officers as interpreters and translators 24

3.2 The use of non-police personnel as ad hoc interpreters 31

3.2.1 Quality checking on ad hoc interpreters 34

4 Conclusions 36

Chapter 3 The Miranda warnings and linguistic coercion: the role of footing in the interrogation of a limited-English-speaking murder suspect 38

1 The Miranda Rights 39

2 Subversion of the Miranda rights of a limited-English speaker 46

3 The case: The People v. Alvarez 46

3.1 The linguistic achievement of coercion 48

3.1.1 Coercion by the police interpreter 50

3.1.2 Footing as co-interrogator 51

3.1.3 Failure to interpret utterances 60

4 Conclusions 62

Appendix 1 65

Chapter 4 Coercion and its limits: admitting to murder but resisting an accusation of attempted rape 71

1 The linguistic construction of sexual violence through interrogation 72

2 Background of the case 74

3 The management of an accusation and resistance to it 76

3.1 Questioning strategies and forms of resistance 79

3.2 Resistance to invitations to narrate, preference for fragmented answers 80

4 The linguistic construction of violence 84

4.1 Constructing attempted rape; strategies of denial 86

4.1.1 Repetition as denial and resistance 91

5 Exposing one's hand: a final police tactic 95

6 Conclusions 97

Chapter 5 Does every yeah mean 'yes' in a police interrogation" 101

1 Acquiescence: a cultural, linguistic, and psychological perspective 102

1.1 The psychological perspective on acquiescence, compliance, and suggestibility and their role in false confessions 108

2 The nature of the interrogations 110

2.1 Coerciveness and question type 111

2.2 Interrupting the narrative: the struggle for the floor 113

2.3 Monotonic intonation of questioning 118

2.4 Ambiguously worded, 'semantically overloaded' questions 119

2.5 Use of formal language 122

2.6 Admonitions to be truthful: expressions of doubt regarding the suspect's honesty 123

2.7 The use of metacommentary 127

2.8 Recycling topics 128

2.9 Rephrasing the suspect's answers 129

2.10 Repeated use of the word 'fair' 133

2.11 Putting words in the suspect's mouth: co-constructing the narrative 134

3 The pattern of the suspect's answers 135

4 Conclusion 141

Chapter 6 Pidginization and asymmetrical communicative accommodation in a child molestation case 142

1 When the police interpreter lacks proficiency in the detainee's language 144

2 Linguistic analysis of the interrogation 146

2.1 Pidginization, communicative accommodation, negotiation for meaning, and code-switching: all in the mix 147

2.1.1 Negotiation for meaning and communicative accommodation 148

2.1.2 Code-switching, code mixing, and lexical insertion 150

3 The interrogation: a sociolinguistic interactional analysis 151

3.1 Pidginized English, pidginized Spanish 153

3.2 The functions of code-switching, code-mixing, and lexical insertion 155

4 A coercive interrogation 158

Chapter 7 Confessing in the absence of recording: linguistic and extralinguistic evidence of coercion in a police interrogation 171

1 The absent tapes: the need for recording interrogations 172

2 Background of the case 175

3 Unreliability of the confession 177

3.1 Physical and psychological abuse: intimidation and excessive force 178

3.2 The sociolinguistic situation 179

3.3 Defective translation of the Miranda rights 180

3.4 The likelihood of comprehension difficulties 183

3.5 Linguistic analysis of the confession statements 184

3.5.1 The role of reported speech 186

3.5.2 Rivera's statement: a vehicle for the deniability of police misconduct 188

4 Stance-taking in the examination and cross-examination of Detective Jimenez 190

5 Conclusion 198

5.1 Steps that could have been taken to increase the likelihood of a reliable confession 199

Appendix 2 201

Chapter 8 Conclusions 211

1 The tip of the iceberg 214

2 Policy implications of this research 215

Notes 218

References 225

Cases cited 248

Name index 250

Subject index 253

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