Suspects’ opportunities to claim their legal rights in police investigative interviews
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionInternational Journal of Speech Language and The Law. 2022, 28 (2), 171-200. 10.1558/ijsll.20349
When interviewed by the police, suspects are to be informed that they have the right to remain silent and the right to obtain the assistance of a defence counsel. This article presents a conversation analytic study of how it is established in interaction whether a suspect wants to go through with the interview or end it by invoking their legal rights. The data is a corpus of audio recordings of authentic police interviews conducted in Norway. First, we present a quantitative measure of how often suspects are asked explicit questions about whether they want to exercise their right to silence and/or to legal counsel. Second, we investigate variation in the design of such questions, concentrating specifically on expressions involving a preference for one response option over the other. Third, we discuss formulations used while presenting the rights that may legitimise or inhibit a free and independent decision. The results show that suspects are often not asked to take a stance on their rights, and when they are, such questions often involve a bias towards waiving their rights. And although some officers explicitly inform the suspects that they are free to choose whatever option they like, others provide information about the interview that either presupposes willingness to talk or presents the option of waiving one’s rights as preferable to invoking them. These findings have important implications for the safeguarding of suspects’ rights and form the basis for recommendations to the police about how to give suspects the opportunity to take a stance on their legal rights.