An ambiguous request for a lawyer does not invoke the Fifth Amendment right to counsel. For example, “maybe I should talk to a lawyer” is ambiguous and statements to police made after such an ambiguous request may be used against a defendant (assuming there are no other issues). See Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452 (1994). While Davis v. United States has been the subject of some criticism, this past week the Louisiana Supreme Court decided to take things a step further by ruling that the statement “just give me a lawyer dog” is ambiguous.
According to the transcriber, the defendant stated, “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.” It should be emphasized that it was the transcriber’s choice to put “lawyer dog” instead of “lawyer, dawg.” The ambiguity is created by the transcriber, not by the defendant.
If the defendant told the officer, “get me a lawyer, mr. officer,” that would be completely unambiguous. The fact that he called the officer a “dawg” shouldn’t matter. It’s the same meaning. It’s like me telling my son, “stop it, son.” I’m not talking about a type of son that is a stop it or a type of stop it that is a son. I’m telling my son to stop it. The defendant wasn’t asking for a canine that passed the bar exam or a lawyer who was really bad. He was telling the officer to get him a lawyer.
What’s frustrating about the ruling is that it extends the ambiguity rule past the defendant’s words to the transcriber’s choice of punctuation. Hopefully, other states won’t follow suit.
Louisiana v. Demesme, No. 2017-KK-0954 (La. 2017).