Without a comma, the request for a “lawyer dog” was a bit confusing. With a comma, it made all the sense in the world.
In a recent 6-1 decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Warren Demesme, who awaits trial on sexual assault charges. Demesme contends that his police interview improperly continued after he invoked his right to a lawyer.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Scott Crichton explained that because Demesme was “ambiguous and equivocal,” the interrogation did not have to be terminated because he had not clearly invoked his right to counsel. According to Crichton, Demesme said this: “(T)his 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.”
If you use a comma, Demesme said it this way – “so why don’t you give me a lawyer, dog.” Or more colloquially: “so why don’t you give me a laywer, dawg.”
Atlanta criminal defense attorney Don Samuel responded with disbelief at the court’s decision.
“It’s just ludicrous,” said Samuel, who has written books on appellate case law. “Nobody reading that, except someone who doesn’t deserve to be a judge, can possibly doubt what the defendant meant by that.”
Even though the charges against Demesme are extremely serious, that shouldn’t matter, Samuel said.
“Constitutional rights matter for every case, from being charged with littering on Peachtree Street or committing an act of terrorism,” Samuel said. “They shouldn’t be denigrated by insisting on grammatical perfection when invoking those rights. When you start getting that picayune about something like that, you’re just denying someone’s constitutional rights altogether.”
Without comment, Justice Jefferson Hughes III issued the only dissent in the case.
Crichton said he wrote his concurring opinion “to spotlight the very important constitutional issue regarding the invocation of counsel during a law enforcement interview.”
By saying “lawyer dog,” Demesme “ambiguously referenced a lawyer,” Crichton wrote.
Stephen Bright, a professor at Georgetown University and Georgia State University law schools, said Demesme was denied justice.
“The court found ambiguity where none existed in order to rule against Warren Demesme,” he said. “It should have enforced the right to a lawyer instead of finding a way to avoid it.”
Atlanta lawyer Amanda Clark-Palmer also disagreed with Crichton’s take on Demesme’s request.
Tongue in cheek, she added, “What’s so odd about this, the suspect obviously wanted a lawyer who graduated from UGA.”