I wish I could tell you that the courts are there to protect your rights; that they exist to make sure that you get a fair shake if you’re ever charged with a crime. But you probably already know better.
Perhaps the worst case of this I’ve heard recently came only a week ago, as reported by the Washington Post. Police had brought a suspect in for questioning, and by law, they are required to stop questioning if someone invokes his right to counsel. If you ask for a lawyer, they are supposed to stop asking questions and give you a chance to talk to a lawyer—your own private criminal defense attorney or a public defender.
In this case, when he was being questioned by police, the suspect told police: “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.” Despite his request, police continued to question him, and after increased questioning the suspect made incriminating statements, which the prosecutor wanted to use against him.
Most people would have understood the suspect’s statement to mean that he was invoking his right to counsel. Most people yes, but not the Louisiana Supreme Court. In his concurring opinion, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton took this statement to its illogical conclusion, finding that “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.”
That’s right. Justice Crichton, writing to agree that the suspect’s statements should be used against him, decided that the suspect was invoking his right to a dog.
In what little fairness is due to him, Justice Crichton’s (at best) flippant comments illustrate a point most people don’t know about your right to a criminal defense attorney. It is not enough to ask for a lawyer: your request must be unequivocal. Saying “I think I should talk to a lawyer,” or “I’m not sure I should talk to you” are not enough for a judge, who wants to see you convicted anyway, to uphold your rights. Be explicit.
Hopefully, you are never in a situation where you need a criminal lawyer. But if you ever are, repeat after me—these words, exactly: “I want a lawyer.”
Because anything less might just get you a dog.
Michael E. Kemp and the attorneys at Hansen Dordell handle criminal cases, ranging from simple DWI cases to major felonies, and related civil cases. If you or a loved one is facing criminal implications, call or e-mail an experienced attorney at Hansen Dordell. 651-482-8900.