A 24-year-old Louisiana man could spend the rest of his life behind bars, thanks to one of the most infuriating court rulings in recent memory.
Two years ago, Warren Demesme was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting two girls—both minors—by New Orleans police. After his arrest, Demesme was read his Miranda rights, but waived them to deny the allegations to his interrogating officers. However, during his questioning, Demesme invoked his constitutional right to counsel, telling the police:
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.
He then continued answering his interrogators’ questions, subsequently offering several incriminating statements. Demesme was charged with aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile as a result.
And here’s where things get enraging.
Since Demesme was never granted his right to council during the interrogation, his attorneys petitioned to have his incriminating statements tossed out of his upcoming trial. But last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled 6–1 that, despite his extremely obvious request for counsel to be present during the questioning, the phrase “lawyer dog” was ambiguous enough that, maybe—just maybe!—he was talking about something else, entirely. A canine attorney, perhaps?
“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,” Associate Justice Scott J. Crichton wrote in a brief, agreeing with the court’s decision.
But, beyond the absurdity of the imagined “lawyer dog,” there’s a more serious issue here. As Orleans Parish ADA Kyle Daly wrote in his response to Demesme’s request:
Reference to a lawyer did not constitute an unambiguous invocation of his right to counsel, because the defendant communicated that whether he actually wanted a lawyer was dependent on the subjective beliefs of the officers.
Daly went on to claim that:
A reasonable officer under the circumstances would have understood, as [the detectives] did, that the defendant only might be invoking his right to counsel.
In other words, the fact that Demesme didn’t explicitly say “Give me my lawyer right this very instant” (despite clearly having meant exactly that) means the officers interrogating him were able to use their discretion, decide that he didn’t really ask for an attorney, and continue with their questioning unimpeded.
Demesme is now scheduled to appear at a pretrial hearing before Criminal District Judge Karen Herman on January 12, where his incriminating statement will be allowed, NOLA.com reported. He is currently in jail on a $2 million bond.
If convicted of the rape charge, Demesme faces a mandatory life sentence in prison.