Brian-Paul Welsh | Give me a lawyer dog
Last week, The Washington Post published an intriguing report on the unfortunate case of Warren Demesme, a young black man from the American city of Louisiana who caused a stir in the courts with his use of a modern idiomatic expression. It was while being interrogated by New Orleans police for his alleged role in the sexual assault of two underage girls that he reached the point of frustration after repeatedly denying the crime, finally declaring: "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 allegedly made subsequent admissions to the crimes to detectives which led to charges of aggravated rape and indecent behaviour with a juvenile. However, the public defender for Orleans parish filed a motion to suppress the incriminating statements made under police interrogation on the basis that the officers had been legally bound to cease their questioning once the accused invoked his right to retain legal counsel.
Evidently, this was not done because the police found his supposed request for a lawyer to be vague and unclear, believing instead that he was literally asking for a 'lawyer dog' and since canines are not known to practise law within the jurisdiction, police did not accede to his request and, therefore, continued their interrogation which eventually led to an admission of culpability.
The public defender argued, first before the trial court and later before the state Supreme Court, that the omission of a comma between lawyer and dog made a world of difference in the interpretation of this request by detectives in the case who incorrectly concluded that the accused had not expressly indicated his desire to retain legal counsel. The case before Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton was, therefore, contingent on the reasonableness of the belief by detectives that the accused was asking for a 'lawyer dog' and not alternatively a 'lawyer, dog' with 'dog' being used contextually as a colloquial moniker for the police with whom he was conversing.
In his ruling, dismissing the motion to suppress the statements of the accused, the Supreme Court justice offered the following perspective: "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."
This sad situation found its way into my consciousness shortly after reading two stories describing recent developments in Jamaica's own regularly confusing legal system. First was news that Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, serving as character witness, begged Senior Parish Judge Simone Wolfe Reece not to send Dr Jephthah Ford to prison for attempting to pervert the course of justice after he reportedly offered to pay police investigators a portion of the US$533,886 they seized while arresting two Surinamese men in 2014.
Not only did the sitting minister stand in court to vouch for the character of a man accused of blatant corruption and perversion of justice, but his attorney, the indefatigable Bert Samuels, like Babsy before him, shared that he was willing to give testimony of his client's impeccable character and immense value to Jamaican society.
The second surprising legal news that caught my attention this week came from defence attorney par excellence, Peter Champagnie, who opined that it might be time his colleagues at the defence bar break the 'bad habit' of fighting every case and instead begin advising their clients to plead guilty where the circumstances are appropriate. That kind of pragmatism mightn't find favour with some of his more ravenous colleagues at the bar because, evidently, blind loyalty and intellectual dishonesty are distinguishing markers of a good lawyer dog.