Criminal Law and Criminology: A Survey of Recent Books
Neumer, Peter, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
ROGER W. SHUY, CREATING LANGUAGE CRIMES: HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT USES (AND MISUSES) LANGUAGE, (Oxford University Press 2005) 185 PP.
In Creating Language Crimes: How Law Enforcement Uses (and Misuses) Language, Roger W. Shuy draws on his decades of experience as a forensic linguistics expert to argue that law enforcement officials are, at times, guilty of using "conversational power strategies" in order to manipulate tape-recorded conversations and create language crimes such as bribery, obstruction of justice, or solicitation of murder. Shuy, while noting the recent scholarship documenting the abuse of forensic evidence generally in criminal trials, is careful to point out that not all, or even many, law enforcement groups systematically manufacture language crimes. Rather, Shuy asserts that law enforcement agents have engaged in problematic behavior with respect to tape recordings only in certain instances. Shuy bases his conclusions almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence culled from the various criminal proceedings Shuy has worked on first-hand. Shuy identifies eleven conversational strategies law enforcement agents and cooperating witnesses use to "create the illusion of a crime when one was not otherwise happening." These strategies range from the rather benign--employing linguistic ambiguity to suggest the presence of a crime (e.g., using a euphemism for the word "kill")--to the downright nefarious--artificially creating static on the recording tape to obscure the future defendant's exculpatory statements or manipulating the on/off switch of the tape recorder to give the impression that the defendant is present when she is not. Shuy suggests that conversational strategies are effective in fabricating language crimes for three primary reasons: (1) the strategies are not noticeable to targets because they are commonplace in standard conversation (for example: people often refer to items or acts ambiguously); (2) the strategies, although potentially confusing or offensive (the insertion of offensive language into a conversation to suggest a rough, "criminal" element), do not arouse suspicion that one is being set up to appear to be committing an illegal act; and (3) the strategies are invidiously deceptive ("lying about critical facts upon which the targets have to rely to make decisions either to commit illegal acts or to reject them"). For Shuy, conversational power strategies are particularly troublesome in the context of a criminal investigation based on tape recordings, because the targets of an investigation do not know they are being recorded and thus cannot properly respond to the questionable conversational practices promulgated by a law enforcement agent or a cooperating witness. Were a target to be aware of the recording process, he could clarify vague terms or take the time to correct a cooperating witness' false statement. Absent this information, however, conversational strategies become powerful and effective in the fabrication of a language crime. Shuy divides his examples of the usage of conversational power strategies into two sections: uses by cooperating witnesses and uses by law enforcement officers. In the cooperating witness section, Shuy describes six separate criminal investigations involving alleged solicitation of murder, murder, stolen property, business fraud, contract fraud, and sexual misconduct respectively and then analyzes how cooperating witnesses attempted to use the conversational techniques of using ambiguous phrases, not taking "no" for an answer to a inculpating question, or lying to establish the target's guilt. Similarly, in the uses by law enforcement officers section, Shuy relates the details of five criminal investigations where the law enforcement agents actually were the ones employing questionable conversational approaches. …