The Language of Consent in Police Encounters

Janice Nadler*, J. D. Trout

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


This article deals with public encounters between citizens and police officers in the United States, focusing on encounters in which police question and search citizens without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. It argues that when police officers seek permission to conduct a search, citizens often feel enormous pressure to say yes. But in most criminal cases, judges do not acknowledge these pressures, generally choosing instead to spotlight the politeness and restraint of the officers' language and demeanor. The discussion begins by considering the practical importance of the consent search as a crime investigation tool, and then looks at legal standards for such searches, including the 'free to terminate' test. To appreciate the controlling power of language, it also discusses general pragmatics and its application to police encounters. The article concludes by describing pragmatics and police authority, and analyzes empirical evidence regarding the language of consent in police encounters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Language and Law
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191750694
ISBN (Print)9780199572120
StatePublished - Nov 21 2012


  • Consent
  • Consent searches
  • Crime investigation
  • Police authority
  • Police encounters
  • Politeness
  • Power of language
  • Pragmatics
  • Terminate test
  • United states

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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