'Lawyer Dog' Appeal Denied by Overly Semantic Court

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 03, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Criminal defense attorneys, and those with any sense of social justice: You might want to sit down before reading this. The title might be cute and give you a chuckle thinking about John Oliver's all-dog Supreme Court, but the facts are absolutely flabbergasting and just don't jibe with the decision.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana just issued a ruling that said a criminal suspect did not invoke his right to an attorney when he requested a "lawyer dog" while being questioned by police. The big problem with this ruling is that obviously the defendant clearly requested a lawyer and was denied by the court for an unspeakable reason (though they'll claim it was semantics) which takes this case from cute to SCOTUS-worthy and troubling.

Wrong Language Judge

While the court relied on a transcription that obviously lacked correct punctuation, it is beyond expectation that the justices could make such an ignorant reading of the transcript. It read:

"if y'all, 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 justices probably should have sought the assistance of a linguist, or translator, or perhaps any person between the age of 10 and 100 who could have told them that a "lawyer dog" is not a real thing. It seems beyond obvious to a reasonable reader of this sentence that the person is saying that they disagree with the police's suspicions and wants a lawyer to make the questioning stop. If a child could understand that, you'd expect an officer could, too.

In states like Louisiana, and the other 49, people from all walks of life and at every socio-economic level, speak English in dialects, use slang, and alternative grammar structures. This has been widely regarded since at least 1980. For the justices to think the defendant was referring to a "lawyer dog" rather than referring to the questioning officer as a "dog" or "dawg" is simply mindboggling. There is no rational explanation for this misunderstanding.

Unambiguousness Requires Some Probing

The Louisiana court relies on the Davis case, where SCOTUS ruled the phrase "maybe I should talk with an attorney" was not unambiguous enough to invoke the right to counsel and end police questioning. However, the big notable difference is that in Davis, the defendant was asked directly whether he wanted to speak with an attorney, and clearly replied "no." That's not the case here. Why is there no mention of a follow up question? Why didn't officers ask if he meant "his lawyer Doug" or "his lawyer friend" or make any attempt to clear up the ambiguity surrounding the invocation?

This "lawyer dog" case is rather puzzling and really leaves one to wonder what's going on in the minds of the Louisiana Supreme Court, given that they think a reasonable officer would not have understood that statement as an unambiguous invocation of an individual's right to an attorney.

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