NEW ORLEANS, La. (WATE) – Punctuation, or the lack thereof, could land a Louisiana man in prison.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that a suspect who told detectives to “just give me a lawyer dog” was really asking for a “lawyer dog” and not exercising his constitutional right to an attorney.
Warren Demesme, 24, was being questioned by New Orleans police in October 2015 after he was accused of sexual assault by two young girls. According to the Washington Post, it was the second time he had been brought in for questioning and he was getting frustrated and maintaining his innocence. Finally, the Post says, Demesme 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.”
The punctuation, which is the linchpin in this case, was provided by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and then adopted by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
After he made that statement, the Post reports Demesme admitted to the accusations. He was then charged with aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile.
Orleans Parish public defender Derwyn Bunton took Demesme’s case and filed a motion to get rid of Demesme’s confession. The Washington Post says that, in a court brief, Bunton said police are legally required to stop interrogating a suspect who asks for counsel.
“Under increased interrogation pressure,” said Bunton, “Mr. Demesme invokes his right to an attorney, stating with emotion and frustration, ‘Just give me a lawyer.’” The police did not stop their questioning, Bunton argued, “when Mr. Demesme unequivocally and unambiguously asserted his right to counsel.”
The Orleans Parish assistant district attorney said that Demesme’s mention of a lawyer was too ambiguous and a “reasonable officer under the circumstances would have understood… that the defendant only might be invoking his right to counsel.”
The motion to suppress Demesme’s statement was denied by the trial court and the appeals court. Last Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court also ruled against Demesme, voting 6-1 to deny his motion.
In his concurrence, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton concluded, “In my view, the defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the interview.”
Demesme remains in the Orleans Parrish Jail awaiting trial.