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