The guilty silence: the discursive implications of non-response in a police interview

Georgina Heydon

Monash University, Australia

TP150: Organisations and Interviewing: from the interactional to the institutional

Police evidentiary interviews with suspects provide a source of institutional language data in which the contributions of participants may be critical to their future, in the context of a subsequent court case. An analysis of the interactional strategies of police interview participants demonstrates that the contributions of the suspect are highly constrained in a number of ways, including allowable turn types and the management of topic initiations. If assumptions about ‘preferred responses’ based on ordinary conversation are used to interpret a suspect's decision to remain silent in this particular institutional setting, then these interactionally restricted contributions, which will be presented as evidence, may be susceptible to adverse inference in a way that is unlikely to be addressed by the judicial system. This paper concludes that discourse analysis can present a case against the erosion of the defendant’s rights, in particular the right to silence.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Organisations and Interviewing: From the interactional to the institutional
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 06