The obligatory “If you ask for a ‘lawyer dog,’ are you invoking your right to counsel?” post
A few days old but no less shocking with the passage of time.
I refuse to believe this ruling is based on what it appears to be based on. No court majority is this stupid. And no court majority would be willing to *appear* this stupid if they had an ulterior reason for upholding a conviction.
Warren Demesme, then 22, was being interrogated by New Orleans police in October 2015 after two young girls claimed he had sexually assaulted them. It was the second time he’d been brought in, and he was getting a little frustrated, court records show. He had repeatedly denied the crime. Finally, Demesme told the detectives:
“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 punctuation, arguably critical to Demesme’s use of the sobriquet “dog,” was provided by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office in a brief, and then adopted by Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton.
By a 6-1 vote, the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. How come? Only one justice, Crichton, was willing to explain his reasoning. It’s a doozy.
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, 2001-3196, p. 10 (La. 12/4/02), 833 So.2d 927, 935 (citations omitted and emphasis in original); see also Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 462, 114 S.Ct. 2350, 2357, 129 L.Ed.2d 362 (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, 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378 (1981).
It’s painfully obvious that Demesme was using the word “dog” as a synonym for “man” or “dude” or “bro” or one of the 8,000 other slang terms the English language has for when one male addresses another. He didn’t ask for a “lawyer dog,” he asked for a “lawyer, dog.” I’m not going to spend three hours researching the etymology of “dog” as slang for “man” because, well, I don’t need to. We all know this. Even the wizened priests of the judiciary should know it or be able to figure it out from context. And if they can’t, they have young clerks who can walk them through it.
But what’s really going on here? Crichton’s dopey opinion isn’t the opinion of the court, just a concurrence he foolishly had published. The thinking of the rest of the justices is a mystery. I’m going to give them enough credit to believe that, for the others, it wasn’t ambiguity in “lawyer dog” that befuddled them, it was the ambiguity in Demesme making his request for a lawyer conditional — if y’all think I did it … why don’t you just give me a lawyer, dog? That’s not really ambiguous either; obviously the cops did think he was guilty, as this was the second time they’d questioned him. When a suspect asks for a lawyer, the interrogation is supposed to end immediately. Instead the cops treated that request as ambiguous, continued the questioning, and ultimately got him to make admissions. The charges: Aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile. That’s heavy stuff, not the sort of defendant whom a judge is eager to let walk away on a technicality. What happened here, I think, is that the court went looking for a reason to ignore Demesme’s request for an attorney, fearing that he was a very dangerous offender, and seized on that conditional “if y’all think I did it” to claim that he never unambiguously asked for one. The admissions are admissible. The accused sex offender remains in custody.
The great mystery is why Crichton didn’t make that argument himself in the concurrence instead of committing himself to a tremendously embarrassing willful misreading of a nonsensical phrase that suggests Demesme wanted a Great Dane with a J.D. Head injury, maybe? I don’t know.
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