Language Detectives at Work: Forensic Linguistics, the FBI, and the Hofstra Innocence Project

In this presentation, Dr. Robert Leonard, Professor of Linguistics at Hofstra University, will explain the emerging field of forensic linguistics, how its specialists consult on investigations, the judicial process, and counter-terrorism activities.  Leonard and his Hofstra Forensic Linguistic student interns work on ongoing exoneration cases, reanalyzing language evidence such as confessions and wiretaps used to convict defendants of murder. They also help investigators track and prosecute murderers in both cold-case and ongoing investigations.

The New Yorker magazine called Hofstra University's Dr. Robert Leonard "One of the foremost language detectives in the country." Read the magazine’s article about him: Words on Trial -- Can Linguists Solve Crimes that Stump the Police?

Prof. Robert A. Leonard PhD (Columbia, 1982) is internationally recognized as a leading expert in the cutting-edge science of forensic linguistics. He is Professor of Linguistics and founding Director of the Graduate Program in Forensic Linguistics, of the Director of the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis, and of the new, unique, Forensic Linguistics Death Penalty Innocence Project at Hofstra University.

Leonard and his leadership in the emerging new specialty of forensic linguistics were the centerpiece of a major 2012 New Yorker article.  His cases are featured on television shows such as Nightline, Investigation Discovery, MTV’s Unlocking the Truth, and Forensic Files.

Leonard was recruited to Quantico by the FBI’s fabled BAU--the Behavioral Analysis Unit (chronicled on TV’s Criminal Minds)--to train their agents in his forensic linguistic techniques, and advise on their Communicated Threat Assessment Database (CTAD). 

Leonard’s clients have included Apple, Inc., Facebook, the Prime Minister of Canada, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Leonard’s testimony has been pivotal in investigating and prosecuting several high-profile cases, including the JonBenet Ramsey case, the triple homicide of the Coleman family in Illinois, and the Hummert murder. As the NY Times put it, "His consultation on the murder of Charlene Hummert, a 48-year-old Pennsylvania woman who was strangled in 2004, helped put her killer in prison." 

Leonard is one of the world’s experts on authorship analysis--he has testified in murder trials revolving around authorship--and on plagiarism (a subset of authorship), both academic and judicial. He consults for plagiarism detection companies. As a leading expert on judicial plagiarism, he testified before a World Bank tribunal in Paris and gave the pivotal testimony to win a 14-billion-dollar case. He is also a leading researcher on effective interrogation techniques and assessing valid vs. false confessions.

Leonard has trained and consulted to police, counter-terrorism, intelligence, and counter-intelligence agencies throughout the US, Canada, continental  Europe, UK, and Asia. He trained UK intelligence and counter-terror agents in the run-up to the London Olympics. He has worked as well for many criminal defense teams, and on a great variety of civil cases. He was Apple’s linguist against both Amazon and Microsoft in their trademark battles.

Leonard received his B.A. with honors from Columbia College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia Graduate School, where he was a Faculty Fellow. He received a Fulbright Fellowship for his Ph.D. research in Africa and SE Asia.


Date: Thursday, May 21, 2020

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: Online

Location: Virtual Event

Registration is now closed.
We are no longer accepting RSVPs as we have reached capacity for this event.
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Thursday, May 21, 2020



Hofstra University Virtual Event
Offered online
Hempstead, NY 11549-1000


Kristine Glanzer

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