Literacy Project: Legal Discourse, Narrative Structure, and Literacy

In this project I decided to look at the literacy in legal discourse. Specifically at the translation that occurs between the police reports and the court room. What you will see in these posts is an interview with Mike Ramsey, Butte County’s District Attorney, and Rick West, Butte County’s assistant District Attorney. In this interview we discuss the structure of narrative and language is used to construct these narratives to present them to specific audiences. Like the police report that is presented to the DA and the court case that is presented to a jury.

What you will hear in this first series of questions is how the DA works with police reports to create a story that is presented in a language that jury will understand.

An interesting notion that is discussed in this portion of the interview is the idea of “cop shows”. The audience is expecting to hear language that is presented in media, the seem to be mixing the fiction narrative with the real life narrative. As DA Ramsey explains even the police are attempting to adopt this language. In reverse of this perspective that the DA’s office has been trying to get the cops to use more common language in narration rather than the “cop talk”.

This piece of the interview is discussing the translation that is necessary for the narrative to be conveyed to the general public.

It is interesting to think about the details of language that are considered in the DA’s presentation of the narrative. Such as Ramsey’s reference to pronouns and West’s reference to making the language in the police report more choppy but clearer in the reference of “who” in the report.

This part of interview progress to the use of evidence and how it plays a role in the construction and presentation of the narrative.

What is interesting about this idea of evidence is that language still plays a huge role in its impact. The evidence supports the narrative but also propels the narrative. The initial presentation of the story is crucial to success and use of any further support of the story.

The conversation of evidence continues in this section talking more specifically about pieces of evidence and their use in the courtroom.

Something that is interesting about the position of the investigator is that he or she seems to play a crucial role in the translation of the story. They work with all the different avenues of narrative in order to help to construct the story.

Continuation of the use of an investigator and evidence in the courtroom.

Ramsey’s idea of active listening and being part of the narrative that is occurring in the courtroom is essential to perpetuation of the constructed narrative that they are attempting to present. Acknowledging that there is a difference between the case that is being presented and the progression of events that are occurring in the court room.  I love the door story as a great example of use of evidence in the court room.

We discuss further the importance of timing and presentation of evidence in cases such as the door.

Evidence can only come in with a witness, the evidence only has its place if a witness can put it in the crime. Which is interesting in the idea of narrative and literacy because the evidence’s effectiveness is based on its relationship to the human element of the crime or the case, which in many ways makes it a constant in a variable. The story of the object cannot change but the language and the person surrounding it can.

In this section we discuss how the DA progresses through a questioning sequence and how they account for the changes that can occur in that sequencing the court room.

This relates back to the earlier idea of active listening. The person doing the questioning as to actively listen to the narrative that being constructed in comparison to the one they have built to be presented. And, then have to ask questions that can keep them on track with the narrative they are trying tell versus the one that is being told.

This section we talk about witnesses and how they tell their stories in the court room.

This piece reminds me of learning to work with different personalities. Learning to account for the human element in telling and constructing a narrative is challenging and unpredictable. Which makes these narrative constructions so interesting because the solely based on human interaction, court cases are based upon the wrongs or disagreements that occur between people.

Some ending thoughts. I had a lot of fun doing these interviews and talking through how these narratives can be presented in court. I would like to research further the role of the investigator because they seem to play crucial role in how the stories are translated and told.


I have also included the complete interview here at the end, there are couple pieces that I did not include for the sake of length and relevance but I still found them interesting and if listen to them I hope you do too. Ramsey and West further discuss the role of the witness and creditability to can be established. In this idea of credibility we also discussed some of the aspects of child crimes and children as witnesses.


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