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English trials heard by Chinese jurors An experimental study on jury comprehension in Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong S.A.R. (China)
Studies in jury comprehension have been largely carried out in monolingual legal systems where jurors speak English as their native language or English operates as a societal lingua franca and focused on jurors’ ability to understand legalese or to follow and evaluate highly technical and scientific evidence given by expert witnesses (e.g. Charrow and Charrow 1979; Cecil et al. 1991; McKimmie et al. 2014; Ritter 2004)
This paper reports the findings of an experimental research project on jury comprehension in the Hong Kong courtroom, where English-medium trials are argued before Chinese jurors who speak English as a second or even foreign language. The subjects of this study were all eligible for the jury service, some with actual jury experience and others without. Segments of authentic audio recordings of two jury trials were used to test their comprehension of courtroom discourse made in English. The results show that most of the subjects had great difficulty in understanding English speeches made by judges and counsel and the comprehension problem is not restricted to legalese or technical evidence. It is also found that the subjects’ comprehension does not have much to do with their educational levels and that those with actual jury experience did not necessarily perform better than those without.
The results of this study highlight an urgent need to ensure jurors’ full access to the court proceedings for justice to be delivered.
11:30am - 12:00pm
"We are just talking about one car": Legal and Lay Linguistic Practice in Civil Forfeiture Hearings
Leah Michelle Nodar
North Carolina State University, United States of America
Drawing on the complementary perspectives of the courtroom workgroup (Eisenstein and Jacob 1977) and the community of practice (Eckert 2000), I argue that the institution of law is created in the everyday linguistic practices of the people whose regular work is doing law. The shared assumptions of the courtroom workgroup undergird negotiations and structure outcomes. The workgroup's implicit ideology of justice is procedural, and manageable as a daily routine, but may conflict with the lay person’s more philosophical ideology of justice (Conley and O’Barr 1990, Merry 1990).
I compare the discourse of American civil forfeiture hearings where claimants represent themselves to hearings where claimants have lawyers. Civil forfeiture hearings involve police seizure of property allegedly connected to a crime, and are against the property itself. Property does not have the right to a lawyer, so there is a mix of represented and unrepresented claimants.
Because the evaluation of actions in reported events is critical for social positioning, I conduct a network analysis of discourse in these hearings, mapping out differences in who speaks about whom. Legal- and lay-dominated hearings differ in outside actors discussed; use of hypotheticals; discussion of the police; and amount of advocacy for claimants. Officer witnesses often use a depersonalized register, attributing actions to the group, while lay claimants discuss officers as individuals. Lawyers rarely contest officer narratives, instead arguing that testimony does not meet a technical legal standard. Characterization of police thus emerges as a particular point of contestation in legal and lay ideologies of justice.
12:00pm - 12:30pm
Discourse, Media & Social Divide in the Jury Room
California Appellate Project, United States of America
In criminal proceedings in the USA, jurors are routinely cautioned to base their verdicts “on the evidence,” rather than on arguments of counsel. Jurors are also advised to avoid making a sentencing decision through emotion.
At the penalty phase of a capital case, jurors may consider victim impact in deciding a sentence, but are prohibited from making a decision based on the comparative worth of the lives of the victim and the accused. (Payne v. TN (1991) 501 U.S. 808.) Courts have increasingly allowed jurors to view sophisticated and emotional film evidence of victim impact but tend to discount any improper influence of such evidence, as well as prosecutors’ related arguments, on the jury’s penalty decision. (See, e.g., Kelly v. California (2008) 555 U.S. 120.)
Since Kelly, prosecutors have also used excerpts from video and other media of defendants in their efforts to ensure the ultimate sentence, urging jurors to consider talk and demeanor in these clips as establishing defendants’ death worthiness. But the inferences jurors are invited to draw may be tainted not only by the excision of the excerpts from their discourse context, but also by longstanding yet implicit cultural and social divisions, implicating the prohibited comparisons of relative worth.
This paper explores the discourse features of these media-based prosecution arguments in a small set of capital trials, drawing data from transcripts, appellate pleadings and case recordings, arguing that the interplay between excised discourse and subtle appeals to social division inappropriately propels jurors toward voting for execution.
12:30pm - 1:00pm
'Order in the court!': The verbal performance of Philippine criminal trials
Danielle Nicole Rosario
University of Santo Tomas, Philippines
Legal interaction is considered as a specialized social setting where courtroom discourse is based on institutional modes of discourse that the courtroom participants must follow. For this reason, courtroom participants are characterized by their regular and frequent interactions who create and participate in a set of shared norms. On that note, this study sought to describe the Philippine criminal courtroom discourse through Wood’s (2012) Courtroom Discourse as Verbal Performance where it examines the sociolinguistic situation of the whole courtroom trial. Specifically, this paper investigated the verbal performance employed by the courtroom participants in nine on-going criminal cases from the Albay Regional Trial Court Branch 18. Using Wood’s (2012) framework, the study analyzed the interaction in sub-events which are arraignment, evidential phase, and promulgation in terms of the categories of Courtroom Interactions and how Philippine courtroom discourse is seen through Bauman’s seven keys of verbal performance. The investigation in this study has further established the different interactions between the courtroom participants and more so that their institutional position determines their communicative trajectory during the court proceedings. Furthermore, Philippine criminal courtroom discourse was described through the seven keys of verbal performance where it was found that although English is still predominantly used inside the courtroom, the participants communicates in their native language (Bikol and Spanish). This paper initiates in describing the sociolinguistic situation of the Philippine trial practice and courtroom discourse. This study, in attempt, may help in understanding the legal proceedings for the lay people.