Court rulings land defendant in the doghouse

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Have you ever told someone something, and then had to explain what you said wasn’t what you really meant? Louisiana defendant Warren Demesme knows that feeling all too well.

Two years ago, Demesme, accused of sexually assaulting two juveniles, waived his Miranda rights during two separate interviews with police. During the second interview, he stated “…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.” (Supreme Court of Louisiana, No. 2017-KK-0954, Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton concurrence). 

By virtue of the statement, most reasonable people would logically conclude Demesme was requesting an attorney, at which point the interrogation should have ended.

However, three Louisiana courts did not agree, ruling Demesme merely “ambiguously referenced” an attorney, which per State v. Payne, 2001-3196, p. 10 (La. 12/4/02), is not enough to stop the interview and provide an attorney. State v. Payne held “[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.”

Demesme argued he requested an attorney, and based on the alleged denial of same, was seeking to suppress information told to one of the detectives, where he admitted to the sexual assault of one alleged victim, and denied the other. The Louisiana courts are choosing to take his request literally, and believe he asked for a “lawyer dog.”

The courts have essentially determined Demesme lost his argument due to use of slang. Many argue this is a racial injustice based on the vernacular use of the word “dog,” as Demesme is African American. Others believe if the police had viewed the statement as having a comma between “lawyer” and “dog,” it would have been interpreted differently.

The case is a confounding example of justice denied, since this particular “dog” didn’t have his day.


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