Coerced Confessions: The Discourse of Bilingual Police Interrogations

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Walter de Gruyter, 2009 - Law - 261 pages
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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 have a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish. It examines the pitfalls of using police officers as interpreters at custodial interrogations.
Using an interactional sociolinguistic discourse analytical approach, the book offers a microlinguistic examination of interrogations involving persons accused of murder, child molestation, and kidnapping. Communication difficulties are shown to arise from suspects' limited proficiency in English and police officers' equally limited proficiency in Spanish, coupled with the unwillingness of these officers to remain in interpreter footing. The volume demonstrates how pidginization and asymmetrical communicative accommodation can emerge in such situations of highly unequal power relations. It also demonstrates how cultural factors such as acquiescence to interlocutors of greater authority and higher socioeconomic status can lead persons of certain Latin American backgrounds to engage in "gratuitous concurrence," answering "yes" to police questions even when it is clear that that these yes-tokens are not truly affirmative responses to those questions. In addition, the book provides evidence of the kinds of abuse that can result from police interrogations that are not electronically recorded.
Coerced Confessions reviews appellate cases involving police interpreters spanning a thirty-four-year period, and concludes that the Miranda rights are placed in jeopardy when a police officer is assigned the role of interpreter at a custodial interrogation.


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language and institutional power
issues in pretrial phases of the judicial process
the role of footing in the interrogation of a limitedEnglishspeaking murder suspect
admitting to murder but resisting an accusation of attempted rape
Chapter 5 Does every yeah mean yes in a police interrogation?
Chapter 6 Pidginization and asymmetrical communicative accommodation in a child molestation case
linguistic and extralinguistic evidence of coercion in a police interrogation
Chapter 8 Conclusions

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About the author (2009)

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

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