Anybody could end up in the hot seat in a police station, under a detective's glare, being asked the same questions over and over again.
Up until recently, however, the slightest hint that a suspect was invoking his or her right to counsel was enough to stop any form of questioning. "Lawyering up" ended the process of interrogation at least until an attorney had been provided by the state -- unless the defendant and his or her family provided private defense counsel.
However, there's been a big change on what the courts now consider a clear invocation of someone's right to counsel. Use the wrong wording, and you're out of luck. This is what everyone should know:
Invoking Your RIght to Counsel Is on You
Forget what you used to know about your Miranda Rights -- because the odds are good that you believe that the police have to read them to you upon your arrest. That isn't true. They only have to read them to you once you are formally being interrogated. They can even have long, tedious meetings with you where they ask you about a crime and your role in it and still not read you your Miranda rights as long as you aren't being detained. What if you don't ask if you're being detained and just assume that you are? That, essentially, is your mistake to make.
Make a Clear, Unambiguous Request
If you have any notion that you are a suspect in a crime, make a clear and unambiguous request for an attorney. Then stop talking. The only time you should say anything else is if the police continue to converse with your (or at you) in any way. Simply repeat, "I decline to talk any further until I have an attorney present." You can ask if you have the right to leave -- and, if you do, use it. Otherwise, keep your conversation to nothing more than "comfort requests," like requests for food, drink, or bathroom trips.
The courts have increasingly been ruling that a defendant's right to counsel is only invoked if it is done so in a clear, timely manner, without any question as to what his or her intended meaning may be. In other words, you can't say, "I think I want an attorney," or "I should probably get an attorney now," and have that count. It won't.
The Changes Are Being Taken to Extremes
If you have any doubt about how far the courts are willing to push the idea that only clear, unequivocal requests for counsel are acceptable, look at the ruling that was just handed down from the Louisiana Supreme Court. A suspect, exasperated at repeated questions, exclaimed, "Get me a layer, dog." The district attorney wrote up the statement as "Get me a lawyer dog." The detectives in the case relied on the procedural ruling that an ambiguous request for counsel is the same as no request for counsel and carried on. After all, they were pretty sure there weren't any lawyer dogs around, and they weren't 100% certain that the suspect meant to invoke his right to counsel using such an odd phrase.
Eventually, the suspect kept talking and incriminated himself. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the detectives were well within their rights to ignore his request for a "lawyer dog" because they couldn't be absolutely certain that was some sort of slang and not just the suspects attempt at humor or a frivolous sort of request.
Situations like the one described above show why it is incredibly important to make clear statements, say nothing other than what is necessary to protect your rights and get a criminal defense attorney onboard to help as quickly as possible. Click here for more info on choosing a criminal defense attorney.Share