Suspects’ opportunities to claim their legal rights in police investigative interviews


  • Aafke Diepeveen University of South-Eastern Norway
  • Jan Svennevig University of Agder and University of Oslo
  • Paweł Urbanik Norwegian University of Science and Technology



communication of rights, police investigative interview, Right to silence, question design, conversation analysis, preference organization


When interviewed by the police, suspects are to be informed that they have the right to remain silent and the right to obtain the assistance of a defence counsel. This article presents a conversation analytic study of how it is established in interaction whether a suspect wants to go through with the interview or end it by invoking their legal rights. The data is a corpus of audio recordings of authentic police interviews conducted in Norway. First, we present a quantitative measure of how often suspects are asked explicit questions about whether they want to exercise their right to silence and/or to legal counsel. Second, we investigate variation in the design of such questions, concentrating specifically on expressions involving a preference for one response option over the other. Third, we discuss formulations used while presenting the rights that may legitimise or inhibit a free and independent decision. The results show that suspects are often not asked to take a stance on their rights, and when they are, such questions often involve a bias towards waiving their rights. And although some officers explicitly inform the suspects that they are free to choose whatever option they like, others provide information about the interview that either presupposes willingness to talk or presents the option of waiving one’s rights as preferable to invoking them. These findings have important implications for the safeguarding of suspects’ rights and form the basis for recommendations to the police about how to give suspects the opportunity to take a stance on their legal rights.

Author Biographies

Aafke Diepeveen, University of South-Eastern Norway

Aafke Diepeveen is a PhD research fellow at the Department of Languages and Literature Studies at the University of South-Eastern Norway. Her research focuses on interaction in police investigative interviews.

Jan Svennevig, University of Agder and University of Oslo

Jan Svennevig is Professor at the University of Agder and Research Professor at MultiLing – Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo. His research deals with conversation analysis in multilingual settings. He has conducted extensive research on conversations between first- and second-language speakers, with an emphasis on practices used by first-language speakers for establishing, checking and securing mutual understanding. He has also published studies on sources of misunderstanding and hostility in intercultural and multilingual conversations in various institutional settings. He is currently the PI of the project Communicating Rights in Police Investigative Interviews.

Paweł Urbanik, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Paweł Urbanik is Associate Professor at the Department of Language and Literature at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. His research focuses on the sequential analysis of police interviews, second-language interaction, gesture–syntax alignment and the grammar of directives in various settings. Recent work: P. Urbanik and A. Pavlenko (2021) ‘Securing understanding in a second language: Communication of rights in investigative interviews in the USA and Norway’, in R. Blackwood and U. Røyneland (eds.), Spaces of Multilingualism 92–112. Abingdon: Routledge.


Ainsworth, J. (2008) ‘You have the right to remain silent … but only if you ask for it just so’: the role of linguistic ideology in American police interrogation law. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 15(1): 1–21. v15i1.1 DOI:

Antaki, C., Houtkoop-Steenstra, H. and Rapley, M. (2000) ‘Brilliant. next question …’: high-grade assessment sequences in the completion of interactional units. Research on Language and Social Interaction 33(3): 235–262. S15327973RLSI3303_1 DOI:

Berk-Seligson, S. (2002) The Miranda warnings and linguistic coercion: the role of footing in the interrogation of a limited-English-speaking murder suspect. In J. Cotterill (ed.) Language in the Legal Process 127–143. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Berk-Seligson, S. (2009) Coerced Confessions: The Discourse of Bilingual Police Interrogations. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. DOI:

Bjerknes, O. and Fahsing I. (2018) Etterforskning: Prinsipper, metoder og praksis [Criminal Investigation: Principles, Methods and Practice]. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.

Bjerknes, O. and Williksen E. (2015) Politirapport: 4. utgave [Police Report: 4th edition]. Drammen: Forlaget Vett & Viten.

Clayman, S. E. and Heritage, J. (2014) Benefactors and beneficiaries: benefactive status and stance in the management of offers and requests. In P. Drew and E. Couper- Kuhlen (eds) Requesting in Social Interaction 55–86. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI:

Communication of Rights Group (2016) Guidelines for communicating rights to non- native speakers of English in Australia, England and Wales, and the USA. Available at:

Cotterill, J. (2000) Reading the rights: a cautionary tale of comprehension and comprehensibility. Forensic Linguistics 7(1): 4–25. DOI:

Couper-Kuhlen, E. (2014) What does grammar tell us about action? Pragmatics 24(3): 623–647. DOI:

Curl, T. S. (2006) Offers of assistance: constraints on syntactic design. Journal of Pragmatics 38(8): 1257–1280. DOI:

Curl, T. S. and Drew, P. (2008) Contingency and action: a comparison of two forms of requesting. Research on Language and Social Interaction 41(2): 129–153. https://doi. org/10.1080/08351810802028613 DOI:

Eades, D. (2010) Sociolinguistics and the Legal Process. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. DOI:

Fahsing, I. and Rachlew A. (2009) Investigative interviewing in the Nordic region. In T. Williamson, B. Milne and S. Savage (eds) International Developments in Investigative Interviewing 39–65. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

Haworth, K. (2006) The dynamics of power and resistance in police interview discourse. Discourse & Society 17(6): 739–759. DOI:

Heritage, J. (2010) Questioning in medicine. In A. Freed and S. Ehrlich (eds) ‘Why do you Ask?’ The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse 42–68. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Heritage, J. and Watson, D. R. (1980) Aspects of the properties of formulations in natural conversations: some instances analysed. Semiotica 30(3–4): 245–262. https://doi. org/10.1515/semi.1980.30.3-4.245 DOI:

Jefferson, G. (2004) Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In G. Lerner (ed.) Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation 13–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI:

Kendrick, K. H. and Torreira, F. (2015) The timing and construction of preference: a quantitative study. Discourse Processes 52(4): 255–289. 53X.2014.955997 DOI:

Leo, R. (1996) Miranda’s revenge: police interrogation as a confidence game. Law & Society Review 30(2): 259–288. DOI:

Leo, R. (2008) Police Interrogation and American Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. DOI:

Levinson, S. C. (1979) Activity types and language. Linguistics 17(5–6): 365–399. https:// DOI:

Lindström, A. (1999) Language as Social Action: Grammar, Prosody, and Interaction in Swedish Conversation: grammatik, prosodi och interaktion i svenska samtal (doctoral dissertation). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Lindström, A. (2017) Accepting remote proposals. In G. Raymond, G. H. Lerner and J. Heritage (eds) Enabling Human Conduct: Studies of Talk-in-Interaction in Honor of Emanuel A. Schegloff 125–142. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pbns.273.07lin DOI:

Mason, M. (2013) Can I get a lawyer? A suspect’s use of indirect requests in a custodial setting. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 20(2): 203–227. https:// DOI:

Nakane, I. (2007) Problems in communicating the suspect’s rights in interpreted police interviews. Applied Linguistics 28(1): 87–112. DOI:

Pavlenko, A. (2008) ‘I’m very not about the law part’: nonnative speakers of English and the Miranda warnings. TESOL Quarterly 42(1): 1–30. https://doi. org/10.1002/j.1545-7249.2008.tb00205.x DOI:

Pavlenko, A. (2017) Do you wish to waive your rights? Affect and decision-making in multilingual speakers. Current Opinion in Psychology 17: 74–78. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.06.005 DOI:

Pavlenko, A., Hepford, E. and Jarvis, S. (2019) An illusion of understanding: how native and non-native speakers of English understand (and misunderstand) their Miranda rights. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 26(2): 181–207. https:// DOI:

Pomerantz, A. (1984) Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds) Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis 57–101. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Pomerantz, A. and Heritage, J. (2012) Preference. In J. Sidnell and T. Stivers (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 210–228. Oxford: John Wiley. https://doi. org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch11 DOI:

Påtaleinstruksen [Prosecution Instructions] (1985) Forskrift om ordningen av påtalemyndigheten [Regulation of public prosecution] (FOR-1985-06-28-1679). Available at:

Riksadvokaten (2016) Politiavhør [Police interview]. Rundskriv fra Riksadvokaten nr. 2/2016.

Robinson, J. D. (2020a) Revisiting preference organization in context: a qualitative and quantitative examination of responses to information seeking. Research on Language and Social Interaction 53(2): 197–222. DOI:

Robinson, J. D. (2020b) One type of polar, information-seeking question and its stance of probability: implications for the preference for agreement. Research on Language and Social Interaction 53(4): 425–442. DOI:

Rock, F. (2007) Communicating Rights: The Language of Arrest and Detention. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rock, F. (2016) Talking the ethical turn: drawing on tick-box consent in policing. In S. Ehrlich, D. Eades and J. Ainsworth (eds) Discursive Constructions of Consent in the Legal Process 93–117. Oxford: Oxford University Press. oso/9780199945351.003.0005

Rogers, R., Harrison, K. S., Shuman, D. W., Sewell, K. W. and Hazelwood, L. L. (2007) An analysis of Miranda warnings and waivers: comprehension and coverage. Law and Human Behavior 31(2): 177–192. DOI:

Rogers, R., Rogstad, J. E., Gillard, N. D., Drogin, E. Y., Blackwood, H. L. and Shuman, D. W. (2010) ‘Everyone knows their Miranda rights’: implicit assumptions and countervailing evidence. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 16(3): 300–318. https://doi. org/10.1037/a0019316 DOI:

Rogers, R., Rogstad, J. E., Steadham, J. A. and Drogin, E. Y. (2011) In plain English: avoiding recognized problems with Miranda miscomprehension. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 17(2): 264–285. DOI:

Russell, S. (2000) ‘Let me put it simply …’: the case for a standard translation of the police caution and its explanation. Forensic Linguistics 7(1): 26–48. https://doi. org/10.1558/ijsll.v7i1.26 DOI:

Sacks, H. (1987) On the preferences for agreement and contiguity in sequences in conversation. In G. Button and J. R. E. Lee (eds) Talk and Social Organisation 54–69. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Schegloff, E. A. (1995) Discourse as an interactional achievement III: the omnirelevance of action. Research on Language and Social Interaction 28(3): 185–211. https://doi. org/10.1207/s15327973rlsi2803_2 DOI:

Schegloff, E. A. (2007) Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CBO9780511791208 DOI:

Shuy, R. W. (1998) The Language of Confession, Interrogation, and Deception. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. DOI:

Sikveland, R. O. and Stokoe, E. (2016) Dealing with resistance in initial intake and inquiry calls to mediation: the power of ‘willing’. Conflict Resolution Quarterly 33(3): 235–254. DOI:

Skjæret, M. (2016) Prosedyre for avhør på stedet [Procedure for police interview on site]. Oslo: Politiet.

Stivers, T. (2004) ‘No no no’ and other types of multiple sayings in social interaction. Human Communication Research 30(2): 260–293. https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2004.tb00733.x DOI:

Straffeprosessloven [Criminal Procedure Act]. (1981) Lov om rettergangsmåten i straffesaker [Act relating to legal procedure in criminal cases] (LOV-1981-05-22-25). Available at:

Urbanik, P. and Pavlenko, A. (2021) Securing understanding in a second language: communication of rights in investigative interviews in the US and Norway. In R. Blackwood and U. Røyneland (eds) Spaces of Multilingualism 92–112. New York: Routledge. DOI:



How to Cite

Diepeveen, A., Svennevig, J., & Urbanik, P. (2022). Suspects’ opportunities to claim their legal rights in police investigative interviews. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 28(2), 171–200.