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  • Creating language crimes: How law enforcement uses (and misuses) language
  • Robert A. Leonard
Creating language crimes: How law enforcement uses (and misuses) language. By Roger W. Shuy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. 194. ISBN 0195181662. $30.

This is the fifth book written on forensic linguistics by Roger W. Shuy. S is the preeminent name in forensic linguistics, the term that has come to refer to the application of linguistic theory to matters of law. This includes testifying on the likelihood of a defendant having written a particular stalking letter or a disputed confession, assisting judges and legislatures in composing jury instructions in plain English, and the subject of Creating language crimes (CLC), analyzing undercover recordings.

This book specifically addresses the language used in undercover operations, when cooperating witnesses (CWs) and police agents wear hidden microphones and covertly record their targets. As alluded to in the subtitle, the focus is on what S considers misuses of discourse strategies in undercover recordings. In this context, it is important to recognize that S is not condemning the use of covert recordings by law enforcement. In his own words, he makes 'no claim that all, or even many, undercover operations carried out by law enforcement agencies regularly engage in the practice of creating false illusions about their targets' guilt' (x). Thus, he carefully distinguishes the acceptable sting operation from the unacceptable misuse of conversational strategies to create the false illusion of a crime (4).

As a linguistic consultant and often an expert witness for the defense in numerous cases involving undercover recordings, however, he has sensed that '[t]he temptation to cut corners and get an "obviously" guilty person convicted is sometimes difficult to overcome' (xiii) and leads to creating the 'illusion of a crime', hence the title reference to 'creating' language crimes, that is, crimes 'accomplished through language alone . . . this category includes the physically nonviolent crimes of bribery, solicitation to murder, sex solicitation, business fraud, selling or purchasing stolen property, perjury, threatening, and other offenses' (6). S identifies a number of recurrent strategies in creating the illusion of such crimes. The strategies recur regardless of jurisdiction and practitioner; they simply seem to be what happens when people push too far as they try to get other people to signal agreement to criminal activity. Chs. 4–15 (41–164) each present individual cases that demonstrate some combination of these strategies. As seen below, the title of each chapter indicates the most prominent strategies involved in the particular case discussed. [End Page 897]

The book is organized into an introduction (ix–xiv) and four parts (1–185), followed by 'References cited' (186–89), 'Cases cited' (190), and an index (191–94). Part 1 (1–38), 'Language crimes, conversational strategies, and language power', is a general discussion of the issues in undercover recordings. It consists of three chapters: 'How language crimes are created' (Ch. 1, 3–12), 'Conversational strategies used to create crimes' (Ch. 2, 13–30), and 'The power of conversational strategies' (Ch. 3, 31–38).

Parts 2 and 3 present the cases and distinguish those involving a CW from those involving a police officer as the undercover agent, in order to reveal similarities and differences in their (mis)use of the strategies. Part 2, 'Uses by cooperating witnesses' (39–106), presents seven cases: 'Overlapping, ambiguity, and the hit and run in a solicitation to murder case: Texas v. T. Cullen Davis' (Ch. 4, 41–50), 'Retelling, scripting, and lying in a murder case: Florida v. Alan Mackerly' (Ch. 5, 51–58), 'Interrupting, overlapping, lying, not taking "no" for an answer, and representing illegality differently to separate targets in a stolen property case: US v. Prakesh Patel and Daniel Houston' (Ch. 6, 59–68), 'Eleven little ambiguities and how they grew in a business fraud case: US v. Paul Webster and Joe Martino' (Ch. 7, 69–80), 'Discourse ambiguity in a contract fraud case: US v. David Smith' (Ch. 8, 81–88), 'Contamination and manipulation in a bribery case: US v. Paul Manziel' (Ch. 9, 89–98), and 'Scripting by requesting directives and apologies in a sexual misconduct case: Idaho v. Mussina' (Ch. 10, 99–108).

Part 3, 'Uses by law...


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