You Have the Right to an Attorney…Or Do You?

When a person is read the Miranda Warning, they are told they have the right to remain silent and that they also have the right to an attorney. Under the law, as soon as a person who is being interrogated by police asks for an attorney, whether they are under arrest or not, the police are required to stop any further questioning and the person is allowed to contact an attorney.

This constitutional right should not have any part of it that is open for legal interpretation – a suspect asks for an attorney, police stop questioning. But legal interpretation is exactly what recently took place in a Louisiana courtroom, with the judge ruling on whether or not the suspect was referring to the officer interrogating him with the slang term of “dog” or whether the suspect wanted an attorney who was also a canine.

In October 2015, the then-22-year-old defendant was being questioned by New Orleans police after two young girls had accused him of sexual assault. This was his second interrogation and police reports indicate he was frustrated during the second interview.

At some point during the interrogation, 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.”

No attorney was provided, the interrogation continued, and he ended up admitting to the crime. He is currently awaiting trial.

The public defender representing the defendant argued that when his client had asked for an attorney, the police should have stopped their questioning. Since they didn’t stop, any statements made by the defendant, including admissions, should be thrown out as evidence. The attorney argued that any reasonable person – including the police conducting the interrogation – would have known that the defendant was asking for a lawyer, not a dog who is a lawyer.

The trial judge disagreed, as did the appeals court. The attorney took the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, who let the ruling stand. The court wrote:

“If a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal . . . the cessation of questioning is not required.”

The court went on to say that the defendant asking for a lawyer dog did not constitute invocating his right to counsel.

Upon hearing of the ruling, Attorney Stephen Hamilton commented, “This is outrageous. The police clearly violated the defendant’s right to counsel. There was no ambiguity about that request at all, especially since there are no such things as canine attorneys.”