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‘Are you going to tell me the truth today?’: Invoking obligations of honesty in police-suspect interviews.

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JournalInternational Journal of Speech, Language and the Law
DatePublished - 2014
Issue number2
Volume21
Number of pages27
Pages (from-to)251-277
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Current police interviewing guidelines describe the investigative interview as a ‘search for truth’ (National Crime Faculty, 2004). A wealth of social science literature treats ‘truth’ in the criminal justice system, like ‘honesty’, ‘lies’, and ‘deception’, as a product of individual intent and decision-making; an absolute which can be systematically observed and measured. Discourse analytic and conversation analytic methods were used to examine how police interviewers talked about ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ in three interviews with adult males suspected of sexual offences against children. What do references to ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ look like? Where are they positioned? How are they managed sequentially? The analysis revealed that ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ are locally invoked interactional resources; produced, recognised, and contested in two very different sequential environments. Firstly, the interviewers set up a contractual obligation to ‘tell the truth’ at the outset of the interviews. These obligations comprise an expectation of truth, a direct request for truth, and a reciprocal offer of truth. This contractual obligation is then revisited later in the interview as a resource to mark disjuncture between the testimonies of the suspect and the alleged victim and construct the suspect’s testimony as implausible. This paper outlines some of the implications of these observations for the development of interviewing practice.

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