Louisiana police, courts deny due process via willful misinterpretation

The constitutional rights of the criminally accused, including due process, a speedy trial, legal counsel, trial by jury, and the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, must be preserved.

The right to request representation by an attorney during police questioning is an essential part of due process rights in the United States. In Louisiana, however, the state Supreme Court just allowed police to get away with negating those rights by willfully misinterpreting a bit of slang that a suspect used during his request for a lawyer.

In October 2015, accused rapist Warren Demesme was being interrogated by police when he said, “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, dawg, ’cause this is not what’s up.”

The interrogating officers deceitfully misinterpreted this as a request for a “lawyer dog,” which they claimed was ambiguous, and continued the interrogation instead. They therefore denied Demesme his right to counsel, and he was ultimately convicted.

Incredibly, when Demesme appealed, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari, which would have subjected the lower court’s ruling to careful review, and issued a ruling on Oct. 27 that it would decline to hear the case.

“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 and does not violate Edwards v. Arizona,” said Justice Scott Crichton in a concurring opinion, referring to the case law precedent that requires police interrogation to cease once an attorney is requested.

“Clearly, Demesme was not asking for help from Rin Tin Tin, Esq.,” said Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark, who served as a public defender in Colorado for several years. “He was denied his fundamental Fifth Amendment right not to be compelled to be a witness against himself. As a result, he is facing life in prison. This violation of the Bill of Rights should not be allowed to stand against a black man in Louisiana … or against any other American.”

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