ACTIVE VERSUS PASSIVE VOICE
To understand active and passive voice, look at the following sentences:
The officer returned the money to the driver. The money was returned to the driver by the officer.
The first sentence is written in active voice. “Officer” is the subject, “returned” is the verb, “money” is the object, and “driver” is the indirect object. The “officer” is also the person taking the action of “returning” the money. Sentences written in active voice have the “performer” as the subject of the sentence, with the subject preceding the verb. The second sentence is written in passive voice. In passive voice sentences, the object of the action (the thing or person performed on) comes first, then the verb, and then the “performer.”
WRITING TIP: Locating the Direct and Indirect Objects
• To find the direct object in a sentence, ask “what” or “who.”
• To find the indirect object in a sentence, ask “to whom” or “for whom.”
So, to find the direct object in the first sentence, “what” or “who” did the officer return? The officer returned the money; thus “money” is the direct object.
To find the indirect object, “to whom” or “for whom” did the officer return the money? The officer returned the money to the driver; thus “driver” is the indirect object.
Active voice is preferable in legal writing because it makes the sentence more powerful and easier to understand. See whether this is true by reading the two sentences. Which do you prefer? Passive voice is fine for those instances when you do not know or do not want to identify the performer. In the example provided, if you did not know who returned the money you could write:
The money was returned to the driver.
When you edit your writing and you find a sentence in passive voice, rewrite it in active voice. Even if the “performer” is not specifically identified in the sentence, you may be able to identify the performer by the context of the sentence.
Now, rewrite the following sentences in active voice:
1. A conversation between Inciarrano and the murder victim was surreptitiously recorded by the victim.
2. The vehicle was searched and Brandin was subsequently arrested.
3. The decision to deny his motion to suppress was affirmed by the appellate court.
4. The defendant was charged with possession of cocaine.
5. The defendant’s motion to suppress the taped conversation was denied by the trial court.
6. Defendant’s car was stopped and searched by a canine and he was subsequently arrested.
7. Brandin stopped his vehicle in the middle of the street and was approached by two men.
8. Brandin was observed by a deputy of the Street Crimes Unit around 9:15 p.m. in a known narcotics area.
9. The defendant was heard discussing a drug deal and was searched and arrested based on the conversation.
10. The suspect was arrested.
11. The conversation was intercepted and taped illegally by the police officer.
12. The suspect’s conversation was recorded by the police officer.