There are times when the truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes that happens in actual legal cases, when you just have to ask what a court was thinking when a decision is entered.
Man Asks for a Lawyer…Or Does He?
Just last week, a court in Louisiana had to determine a very serious issue—whether a suspect had properly invoked his constitutional right to an attorney. He was not provided one, although he said he asked for one while he was being interrogated by police. The transcript of his interrogation shows that he said, “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.”
The police ignored his request for an attorney, and later he was convicted based on statements he had made after the request. His attorney asked for those statements to be ignored or thrown out, as they were made after he requested an attorney but was not provided one, and the constitution requires that interrogation end immediately when a suspect asks for an attorney.
The Constitutional Right to Counsel
His request was denied, and his appeal was denied, and the Louisiana Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal, other than to say that his words did not constitute an unequivocal request for counsel, as the constitution requires.
Specifically the constitutional test is whether a reasonable officer would interpret what a suspect says as a request for a lawyer. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that suspects do not have to use any magic language or complex legalese, they just have to get their point across.
A justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court noted while rejecting to hear the case that referring to a request for a “lawyer dog” is not a request that meets that constructional test.
More specifically it can be inferred from the opinion (as well as the spelling of “dawg” as “dog” by the Justice writing the opinion) that the Louisiana Court believed that a reasonable police officer could believe that the suspect was asking for a “lawyer dog,” that is, a dog that practices law.
Translations and Transcripts
Clearly, something has been lost in translation, or else the Court is not paying attention to commonly used slang. In fact, “dawg” actually has a definition, meaning buddy, man, or dude.
There is also a grammar lesson here, as it appears that the transcript of the interrogation was missing a comma: “give me a lawyer, dawg” became on the transcript, “give me a lawyer dog,” which technically, according to the rules of grammar, could mean a canine with a law degree.
There is actually a real lesson here—transcripts of every kind of proceeding matter, and one can not assume that a court reporter is accurately recording everything someone says, or picking up on slang or popular phraseology. Dawg becomes Dog and even little words or pronouns like “he” or “she” can completely alter the meaning of a transcript, changing basic fundamental rights.
Most proceedings provide parties a right to review a transcript and change transcriptions that are incorrect, and that is a right that should be exercised.
Make sure your constitutional rights are protected at all stages of every proceeding. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your arrest or criminal charges and all possible defenses.