Cornell Law Review Volume 92 Issue 4

The Promise and Shortcomings of Forensic Linguistics

When many people think of expert testimony in the criminal justice system, they imagine testimony involving the forensic techniques employed by the fictional investigators on the television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In a high-profile case, jurors expect to hear about DNA testing, ballistics analysis, fingerprint matching, handwriting comparisons, and autopsies. Indeed, jurors have developed a near reverence for such expert testimony in criminal trials.

Professor Roger Shuy would add a new category of forensic expertise to the pantheon: linguistics. In his latest book, Creating Language Crimes: How Law Enforcement Uses (and Misuses) Language, Professor Shuy points out that police, either by themselves or through their cooperating witnesses, have been known to manipulate language in their undercover investigations. The solution, according to Professor Shuy, is for defense attorneys to offer expert testimony by forensic linguists who can expose the misuse and misinterpretation of language by undercover agents. With the aid of an expert linguist, the defense can show that the recorded language does not necessarily evince the defendant’s guilt.


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