Perjury charges for a shipping company executive

Roger W. Shuy

in The Language of Perjury Cases

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199795383
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919314 | DOI:
Perjury charges for a shipping company executive

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This chapter describes the perjury charges of a shipping executive who was the shipping agent for the Khian Sea. After two years of sailing around the world trying to unload several tons of incinerator ash, the ship dumped most of it somewhere in the ocean. In his grand jury testimony, the shipping agent testified that he “had no idea” what happened to the ash, leading to his indictment for perjury. His trial included a linguistic analysis of the difference between literal truth and figurative language, reminiscent of the US Supreme Court ruling in Bronston v. United States. An important aspect of this case was the failure of the prosecution to recognize the speech event in which this testimony occurred. The shipping agent recognized and followed the requirements to satisfy the cooperative principle: to be as informative as required and to not say anything that was not relevant or anything for which he lacked verifiable evidence. Therefore, he refused to speculate. Interestingly, when the prosecutor asked him ambiguous questions, the shipping executive used the speech act of requesting clarification, but the prosecutor did not try to disambiguate any of the executive’s answers. The prosecution’s intelligence analysis in this case could be highly criticized.

Keywords: perjury; literal truth; cooperative principle; ambiguity; intelligence analysis; speech acts

Chapter.  3556 words. 

Subjects: Sociolinguistics

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