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Police Records in Court

Police Records in Court

The Narrative Fore- and Backgrounding of Information by Judges in Inquisitorial Criminal Court

(p.349) Chapter Sixteen Police Records in Court
The Discourse of Police Interviews
Fleur van der Houwen
University of Chicago Press

In Dutch inquisitorial courts police records play an important role. In most proceedings, witnesses are not heard again in court but instead a statement based on a question-answer interview at the police is used. Similarly, statements by suspects may take precedence over the oral statement they give in court. The immediacy principle, which requires witnesses’ and experts’ direct presentation of evidence has been weakened since the Supreme Court ruled that hearsay evidence may be used instead. Witnesses are rarely heard again in court and judges, instead, selectively read from their statements. Based on a corpus of 34 criminal trials, three broad linguistic strategies were found that invoke the content of police records: 1) summaries or paraphrases, 2) indirect reports, 3) direct reports. These different forms have different functions and this chapter investigates when, in what narrative and sequential context, and with what kind of information judges use what strategy and how. The chapter shows that referring to the case file is not a neutral activity and that different strategies allow a judge to put information more or less prominently ‘on record’ while constructing a new narrative of what happened.

Keywords:   courtroom interaction, police statements, judges, reported speech, narrative, foregrounding and backgrounding, deictics, evidence

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