Voice evidence in trials: Can a criminal suspect be identified just by the sound of his voice?

phys.org | 7/12/2019 | Staff
red815 (Posted by) Level 3
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A few months ago, I received a call from a barrister who asked me if I could evaluate whether voice identification testimony submitted in a criminal case against an Indigenous man was based on appropriate analysis.

He told me a police officer had been working on a criminal investigation when he heard a voice on a covert audio recording that he believed was one of three suspects in an unrelated armed robbery investigation.

Police - Phone - Location - Data - Suspects

The police had mobile phone and location data on two of the suspects in the case. However, they did not have direct evidence tying the third suspect to the crime. To prove his involvement, the prosecution sought to use voice identification evidence, in addition to other evidence that I was not privy to.

After a single meeting with the suspect in custody, the officer investigating the case identified the voice on the recording as his. The police officer said he was certain of the match because the suspect, like the voice on the recordings, had "a low voice. He speaks with a kind of a drawl and occasionally sounds like a bit of a whine."

Suspect - Crime - Validity - Voice - Identification

The suspect pleaded not guilty to the crime and questioned the validity of the voice identification. It was at this point the lawyers contacted me.

I reviewed the police procedures used in the case with another linguistics professor at the University of Sydney, Mark Post, and a team of graduate students, and we agreed the voice identification did not meet the standards for forensic linguistic evidence used in trials.

Evidence - Ad - Hoc - Expert - Case

The evidence had been submitted by a so-called "ad hoc expert," in this case, the police officer, who had no training or expertise in forensic linguistics. As part of our brief, our job was limited to reviewing whether sufficient language analysis had been carried out to substantiate the voice...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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