Forensic Linguistics Project Director Dr. Robert A. Leonard is a Professor of Linguistics at Hofstra University. He is Director of the Linguistics Program and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Languages, which includes linguistics, literature, the English Language Program, and twelve foreign languages. Leonard specializes in the forensic linguistics of English as applied to U.S. law.
Leonard has been qualified as an Expert in Linguistics in NY Supreme Court, in PA State Court (under Frye), and as Expert in Linguistics and Sociolinguistics in Federal District Court in Newark, NJ (under Daubert). He is the only Forensic Linguist to have been admitted to the Expert Panel of the 18B Assigned Counsel Plan of the City of New York.
Dr. Leonard’s language consulting clients have included the FBI, the Pennsylvania State Police, NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, New Jersey Office of Attorney General, US Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of NY, New Yorker Magazine, ABC-TV's Investigative Unit, and law firms that specialize in both civil and criminal cases. He has trained FBI and international agents in Forensic Linguistic techniques at the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit-1 (Counter-terrorism and Threat Assessment) headquarters in Quantico, and has participated with the FBI to give training in Quantico and NY to U.S. Secret Service, NYPD, U.S. Park Police, National Park Service, CIA, New Jersey State Park Police, New Jersey State Troopers, Dept. of Homeland Security, Federal Reserve Police, UN, FBI-NYFO, and ATF. At Hofstra University, he teaches a special graduate section of Forensic Linguistics for FBI Supervisory Special Agents.
Leonard delivered the plenary address at the 2006 Ohio Attorney General’s Conference on Law Enforcement, and addresses groups such as the North Shore-LIJ medical association, the Nassau County Bar Association, the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals in New York, and their wordwide meeting in California.
He has been consulted in some well-known cases such as the Taye Diggs-Idina Menzel arson threat letters, the McGuire “suitcase” murder (in which he prepared testimony to bolster the FBI expert), the Alvarez spy case (in which he prepared testimony against FBI interrogators), the Hummert murder (about which Forensic Files filmed “A Tight Leash”), and the John Karr episode of the JonBenet Ramsey murder (in which Leonard’s findings presaged those of the DNA tests: no evidence of links.)
A member of the International Association of Forensic Linguists, Leonard has testified and consulted for both prosecution and defense in criminal cases of murder, espionage, and other felonies, and in civil cases of plagiarism, libel, malpractice, and the meaning of contracts.
A Fulbright fellow for his Ph.D. research, he received his B.A. 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.
Prior to specializing in forensic linguistics, he researched and worked for eight years in Africa and Southeast Asia, living in traditional tribal societies, Islamic societies, and Confucian and Buddhist societies. He spent six months of a recent sabbatical studying in Thailand, Laos and Burma, and remains active in research on the semantics and grammar of the African Bantu language Swahili.
Beginning in 1974, when he first advised the Civil Service Commission of Nassau County (population 1.3 million) on court-ordered removal of language bias in official examinations, Leonard has applied the science of linguistics to a wide range of legal issues such as disputed authorship, libel, forgery, plagiarism, the meaning of contracts, and linguistic analysis of letters by request of police departments in cases of murder and threatened violence.
While forensic linguistics courses are fairly well established at university level in the UK and Europe, they are a rather new concept in American higher education. In 2001 Leonard established courses in "Language and Law" at Hofstra, which thus joined the handful of US colleges and universities that teach forensic and legal linguistics. The first course in the United States entitled "Forensic Linguistics" was subsequently taught at Hofstra by Professor Leonard. The Forensic Linguistics Internships began in 2004.
Dr. Leonard is a member of the International Association of Forensic Linguists.