International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 20, No 2 (2013)

Can I get a lawyer? A suspect’s use of indirect requests in a custodial setting

Marianne Mason
Issued Date: 17 Dec 2013


The manner in which a custodial suspect performs his/her invocation for counsel determines whether it is deemed unequivocal. Legal precedence since Miranda shows that the courts often give legal effect to invocations for counsel that are formulated directly whereas those formulated indirectly are not. Research suggests that the courts’ interpretation of what constitutes an unequivocal invocation for counsel tends to penalise speakers who use indirect speech. Speakers, however, often disprefer directness when confronted with a face threatening situation. This creates a problem for suspects who are under custodial interrogation and are trying to address the constraints imposed by the coerciveness of the exchange. This article examines suspects’ rights in police interviews in the United States, specifically the police interview of John Smith. This analysis illustrates how a suspect’s perception of being in custody affects the linguistic choices (s)he makes when performing an invocation for counsel, even when those choices do not appear to further the suspect’s right against compulsory self-incrimination.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.v20i2.203


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