COMMENTARY: Court rulings land defendant in the doghouse

prev
next

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

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

Two years ago, Demesme, who had been accused of sexually assaulting two juveniles, waived his Miranda rights during two separate interviews with police. During the second interview, Demesme 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 that Demesme was requesting an attorney, at which point the interrogation should have ended. However, three Louisiana courts did not agree, ruling that 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 the defendant with an attorney. State v. Payne held that “[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 that he requested an attorney, and based on the alleged denial of same, he 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 that he asked for a “lawyer dog.”

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

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

———————

Marie E. Matyjaszek is an attorney referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »