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Discursive Constructions of Consent in the Legal Process$
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Susan Ehrlich, Diana Eades, and Janet Ainsworth

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199945351

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199945351.001.0001

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Culture, Cursing, and Coercion

Culture, Cursing, and Coercion

The Impact of Police Officer Swearing on the Voluntariness of Consent to Search in Police-Citizen Interactions

(p.23) 2 Culture, Cursing, and Coercion
Discursive Constructions of Consent in the Legal Process

Janet Ainsworth

Oxford University Press

Not infrequently, police officers will swear in an abusive manner during street encounters with individuals. This chapter suggests that the use of such language reflects attributes of the occupational culture of law enforcement, and that it is intended by the officer as a means of exerting control over the interaction. Swearing—particularly by those in positions of authority—is a powerful signal of role transgression. As such, it additionally signals the possibility of further role transgression, including the potential police use of physical force against the subject. The individual sworn at in this context experiences the interaction as hostile and threatening, and the coercion inherent in such an interaction taints the entire episode, including police requests that the subject acquiesce in a search. Lawyers and judges need to be sensitive to the ways in which such police language can undermine the voluntariness of a later “consent” to search.

Keywords:   police culture, swearing, consent to search, coercion, masculinity, speech act theory, police-citizen interaction

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