'Lawyer dog' decision sets a precedent for police interrogations

'Lawyer dog' decision sets a precedent for police interrogations

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision involving a rape suspect and his choice of words sets a precedent for anyone questioned by police.

"People will use this case to say judges aren't understanding when people are asking for lawyers and they are not being sensitive to the way people culturally ask for things," Tulane Criminal Law Professor Jancy Hoeffel said.

In 2015, New Orleans police officers interrogated Warren Demesme for allegedly raping his younger cousins.

Officers read Demesme his Miranda Rights, and while being questioned, Demesme said, "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."

But officers kept questioning Demesme.

The sergeant responded by telling Demesme he had a right to an attorney and could stop the interview if he wanted, H asked Demesme to explain why his cousins would accuse him of rape. Demesme answered the question about his cousins, but made no mention of the lawyer after his statement, according to the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office.

Officers told Demesme that his DNA was found on his cousins and he should "unburden himself and tell the truth."

The DA's office states 23 minutes after his lawyer statement, Demesme confessed to improper sexual conduct with his younger cousin.

"Even if the person changes their mind, it doesn't matter. As soon as you say I want a lawyer, everything that comes after is out," Hoeffel said.

The Orleans Parish Public Defender tried to get the confession thrown out, alledging officers violated Demesme's right to counsel.

The DA's office argued the confession should stay, citing a ruling in a previous case that said, "The suspect must articulate his desire to have counsel present with sufficient clarity that a reasonable police officer in the circumstance would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney."

In a 6 to 1 vote, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided to allow Demesme's confession to stay.

"To be frank, I think it's a rape case and I think it's a serious charge and I think judges do feel a lot of pressure a lot of times not to supress statements because the reasoning or rational given by the one concurring justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court doesn't make any sense at all...If there were such a thing as a lawyer dog that would be confusing, but there isn't," Hoeffel said.

Justice J. Crichton is the only one to give reason for his decision writing, "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."

"If you think you need a lawyer while you're being interrogated by police, you better specifically ask for one, and more importantly, stop talking," FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti said.

"Police officers are well aware that if a person isn't crystal clear that they can keep asking questions," Hoeffel said.

Demesme is still awaiting his trial in Orleans Parish Court. He can appeal the Supreme Court's decision only after his trial.

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.