The Bad Judges And The Law Dog

The legal commentariat is much amused by a case out of Louisiana involving  the right to counsel. I don’t think it’s funny at all.

( Oh all right, it’s a little funny.)

Warren Demesme was being interviewed by detectives, not for the first time, about some alleged sexual misconduct with minors. He was read his rights, “Mirandized,” as they say, and said that he understood, and waived those rights. (He could, however, choose to invoke them at any time, per several Supreme Court rulings.)

At some point the interview got tense, and the suspect said,

“If y’all, this is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what’s up.”

He was not, however, given access to a lawyer, and when he appealed his subsequent conviction on the grounds that he requested legal assistance and was not accommodated, the lower court rejected his argument, saying that he had not made his desire for a lawyer clear and unambiguous. Incredibly, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, writing in part,

The defendant argues he invoked his right to counsel. And the basis for this comes from the second interview, where I believe the defendant ambiguously referenced a lawyer..As this Court has written, “[i]f a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable police officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking his right to counsel, the cessation of questioning is not required.” State v. Payne (La. 2002); see also Davis v. United States (1994) (agreeing with the lower courts’ conclusion that the statement “[m]aybe I should talk to a lawyer” is not an unambiguous request for a lawyer). In my view, the defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a “lawyer dog” does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the interview and does not violate Edwards v. Arizona (1981).


And the vote on the Supreme Court in favor of this indefensible ruling was 8 to 1. 8 to 1!

Forget it, Jack. It’s Louisianatown.

There was nothing ambiguous about what Demesme said. Who does the detective and the judges think they are fooling? “Why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog” could mean only one of three things:

A. Please get me Lassie.

B. Please get me a Rottweiler with a law degree.

C. Please get me a lawyer as the law requires you to do when I ask for one, Dawg.

Only one of these made any sense in the man’s current situation. For the detectives to say, “Gee, we had no idea that he wanted a lawyer” is either contrived ignorance or a lie. For the judges to endorse the charade is robbing a citizen of his rights using intellectually dishonest reasoning. The decisions of both courts breach judicial ethics standards, even in Louisiana, where Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires,

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. 

From the comments to the linked article: “Judges of all stripes will be a lot more likely to find a constitutional violation if finding a constitutional violation doesn’t mean a really bad dude goes free.” 

That in itself is disturbing.


Source: The Volokh Conspiracy


Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

26 responses to “The Bad Judges And The Law Dog

  1. Fred Davison

    Reminds me of Eats, shoots & leaves.

    And of course, there is also, the Walken Comma, and, the, Shatner, comma.

  2. JP

    This is just stupid. Louisiana is 32% African American. According to the 2010 census that is the second largest black population per state. Dawg is common slanging. The lower court and the Supreme court’s ruling puts an unreasonable burden on the populace that would unfairly affect (at least in this case) black people and the uneducated.

  3. Isaac

    Let’s not give the ABC Network any new ideas for a wacky new comedy series.

    • valkygrrl

      So something like unfrozen caveman lawyer? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just a puppy. Your world frightens and confuses me…..

  4. Other Bill

    What a joke. Presumably this will go to the SCOTUS and be reversed and the conviction will be thrown out. Sheesh.

  5. Mike

    It makes me think of (the late) Victor Borge and his routine with the visible punctuation. Otherwise, when the words give, me, a, and lawyer appear in this order in one sentence, a goldfish would get the idea that the cat wanted a lawyer, Dawg… You would think.

  6. Arthur in Maine

    More proof that direct election of judges is a really, really bad idea.

  7. Wayne

    I’m wondering if he said “law dawg”. That clouds the issue somewhat:

  8. valkygrrl

    Guy asked for a lawyer, cops didn’t do it. Is there a good reason why we’re not hearing about the cops being fired?

  9. Greg

    The court’s decision isn’t going to be reversed. It was probably correct on the law. The law in this area has been grossly twisted to deny people’s right to counsel.. Here are some examples of language that courts have ruled are not clear and unambiguous requests for an attorney, so that police may continue an interrogation:

    Maybe I should get a lawyer.
    How do I get a lawyer?
    How long would it take to get a lawyer?
    Can you get me a lawyer?
    My friend is a lawyer. I don’t want to answer any questions until I talk to him.

    Given this history, it’s not surprising that the court here ruled that “Why don’t you just give me a lawyer?” was not clear and unambiguous.

    The language that everybody is quoting about the “lawyer dog” is indeed idiotic, but it is not the opinion of the court. The court didn’t write an opinion here, as is usual in cases denying a writ of certiorari. It was a concurring opinion signed by one judge. His idiocy isn’t going to get the ruling of an 8-1 majority reversed.

    • valkygrrl

      The last four looks like unambiguous requests for counsel to mine eyes.

    • agree. The confusion lies in the standard in Miranda warning as related to what this accused said, which was “if y’all, this is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what’s up.” The Louisiana Supreme Court that that was ambiguous reference to a lawyer. The funny part is the “lawyer, dog”. But the issue is whether the accused voluntarily waived his right to counsel.

      The Court was ruling on the standard of “not an unambiguous request for a lawyer” or “ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable police officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking his right to counsel, the cessation of questioning is not required”. State v. Payne (La. 2002); see also Davis v. United States (1994). From my perspective, I can’t see how this accused’s statement was ambiguous, but law enforcement officers are trained in parsing through the language to make what appears to me to a request for counsel into something else.


  10. Greg

    I just read State v. Payne, a Louisiana Supreme Court case cited in the concurring. In that case, the defendant asked, “Can I call a lawyer? May I call a lawyer?” while reaching for her phone. The cop took the phone away from her. The court ruled that was OK.

  11. bellisaurius

    It looks like the original decision needs overturning (I’m assuming the legislature isn’t going to do anything), in that the court does not seem to believe that a conditional statement: “why don’t you just give me a lawyer” can be answered “If we do, the interview will be over and we’ll need to arrest you”.

    While plausible, it’s dumb. The standard ought to be- If I’m invoking any right ambiguously, there should be a clarfication to see if it is an invocation. i can’t see how justice (which is there for the victim and the potential suspect) is served best by not doing it that way.

  12. I’m at a wedding so I’m on my phone forgive me if I struggle with typing grammar, but I’m confused.

    No one could think It’s the “dog” that makes this ambiguous. So, that writer is an idiot but that’s just the concurrence.

    However, the statement IS ambiguous. It’s the if then format that creates ambiguity. If you think I did it, I want a lawyer. So, what if they didn’t yet think he did it, or alternatively, did think he did it but had an excellent reason to withhold that information at the time. Is it invoking always or only when the police think they have their guy? That’s the ambiguity, and for that reason, I don’t expect this will ultimately be overturned.

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