The use of “loaded” language in the Courtroom and in forensic science

Just two days ago we examined the use of the word “match” and how it is a fungible concept and its use is devoid of any sort of scientific merit.

So this makes for a obvious question, what other language is used in the courtroom that evokes the same idea of expressing a matter beyond its factual limitations?

  • “the same”
  • “match”
  • “identical”
  • “exact”

What about expanding this concept to the broader and wider world of the Courtroom beyond that strictly of forensics?  The other words that fall into the same cognitive schema include:

  • “victim” (this is because as the trier of fact, the Judge or the Jury, determines whether or not there has been a crime.  The word “victim” connotes that one has been victimized by a perpetrator of a crime.  Without the determination that there has been a crime, the use of the word victim is indeed premature)
  • “crime scene”  (how can there be a crime scene if it is contested that there has been a crime at all)
  • “killer”
  • “murder”
  • “drunk”
  • “homicide”
  • “embezzle”
  • “fraud”
  • “robbery”
  • “rape”

So what?

"Loaded language" is a form of scientific dishonesty
"Loaded language" is a form of scientific dishonesty

The “so what” is the issue of “loaded” language.

The prejudicial effect of the use of “loaded” language in the Courtroom is manifest.  It concerns the use of these terms and others like the second listing above.  The use of these terms truly misrepresent the limitations of the facts or of the forensic science.  It leads to hyperbole in its literal sense of the word.

This leads to inaccurate reporting to the trier of fact wherein concepts are reported incorrectly as absolutes or way beyond their factual existence or the scientific testing result justifies.  It is truly a form of sensationalism.  One modern psychologist, Robert Jay Lifton, considers loaded language to be form of an effective brainwashing technique.  He writes that “Existing words are hijacked and given new and different meanings.”

The use of loaded language by the Government is a subtle but powerful way for prosecutors and police offers to skew the facts into the camp of conviction.

The same is true with the ultimate concept in any trial.  Not guilty is not the same as innocent.  Not guilty simply means not proven beyond all reasonable doubt by the Government after employing the presumption of innocence and the burdens of production and persuasion.

We have to be on the look out for “loaded” language and guard against its use in the Courtroom

3 Responses to “The use of “loaded” language in the Courtroom and in forensic science”

  • I was happy to discover that I’m not the only person who has recognized the use of “loaded” language in the Courtroom! I’m an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse from Chester County, and your site came up when I googled the phrase “use of ‘loaded language’ in court.” I’m familiar with the work of Robert Jay Lifton, and one of my interests is in critical thinking, biases, and clinical judgement. Although I’m familiar with the research literature in this area, the question I have is how can we work toward eliminating the abuse of “loaded” language within the legal system? I’d appreciate your thoughts on this!

    Barbara A. Beebe, RN, MSN, PMHCNS-BC
    Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist
    Board Certified

  • I think it begins with education. What I mean by that is informing criminal defense attorneys primarily. Continuing Legal Education seminars and more publications. We as a group of folks need to file motions in limines to exclude the language. Undoubtedly, it will take years to change the judiciary. It will take Chinese water torture. It works. It just takes a lot of time. What do you think?

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