In Speaking of Crime, during the federal government’s case against Robert Crandall for soliciting Howard Putman to fix fares to create a monopoly (which is illegal), Crandall argued that he was merely making a suggestion, not a request. What are the semantic features of a suggestion according to Anna Wierzbicka and was Crandall’s conversation with Putnam just a suggestion or did he intend to get Putnam to set prices?    

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In Chapter Nine of Speaking of Crime , Solon and Tiersma look at the difference between "suggestion" and "request" as they relate to the crime of solicitation. Very often, people accused of soliciting a crime claim that they were not being sincere, that they were only suggesting a crime in...

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In Chapter Nine of Speaking of Crime, Solon and Tiersma look at the difference between "suggestion" and "request" as they relate to the crime of solicitation. Very often, people accused of soliciting a crime claim that they were not being sincere, that they were only suggesting a crime in jest, or perhaps to prove a larger point. According to Wierzbicka, a linguist who studies semantics in the English language, suggestion has the following features:

  1. I say that I think it would be a good thing if you complete the suggested act;
  2. I say this because I wanted you to think about it;
  3. I do not know whether you will do it;
  4. I do not want to say that I want you do it.

In the case of Robert Crandall, the authors conclude that, by the first three criteria, he is making a suggestion. But it seems from his conversation with Putnam that he does, in fact, want to say that he wanted him to fix prices in a way that is contrary to the law. They argue that his exchange with Putnam was closer to the definition of a "request," because it benefits him, and at least points out that it would benefit Putnam as well. It seems that he was offering, in to use a phrase now very much part of the popular lexicon, a "quid pro quo." He said, in not quite so many words, that if Putnam, the president of Braniff Airlines, should raise his prices, he would do the same. Crucially, this would have been a crime on Crandall's part even if neither party had actually raised prices. In short, it could be argued that Crandall was offering to collude with his competitor to enter into a mutually-beneficial monopoly, which is a federal crime. He goes beyond a "suggestion" to a "request." The authors cite this case as a fairly clear-cut case of how semantics can be critical to many criminal trials.

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