The Louisiana legal system, much like its political system, has never enjoyed a reputation for deep thinking or the ability to grasp complex constitutional issues.
For example, in 2004 the state sentenced Patrick O’Neal Kennedy to death for the alleged rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter. This was done despite a 1977 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that held the death penalty for the rape of an adult woman was grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment. The Kennedy death sentence was based on a 1995 law enacted by the Louisiana Legislature—a body more renowned for its corruption than sound legislating—that recapitalized the crime of rape against a victim under the age of twelve. The following year the state’s highest court, the Louisiana Supreme Court, upheld this new law.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kennedy case was forced to inform the justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court that rape, even for a child, is prohibited cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—something a law school graduate could have told the justices.
Louisiana Justice System Disingenuous, Cynical
And it is this kind of constitutional foolhardiness that brings us to the case of William Demesme—another child sexual assault case that would allow the Louisiana Supreme Court to stretch its constitutional imagination beyond the bounds of normal, rational logic.
In 2015, Demesme was a 22-year-old resident who spent a lot of time on the streets of New Orleans adopting the city’s unique slang and cultural mores. That year, two juvenile girls, one a preteen, reported to New Orleans police that Demesme had sexually assaulted them. Police arrested Demesme who was interrogated by New Orleans sex crimes Detective Nigel Baddoo. The suspect vehemently denied the sexual assault allegations.
In what must be considered completely normal, rational behavior for a suspect accused of child sex crimes that carries a mandatory life without parole sentence, Demesme became frustrated, even agitated, with the police’s repeated insistence that he own up to the crimes—even if he didn’t commit them.
Just Give Me a Lawyer Dog
Demesme finally told the Detective Baddoo, “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.”
We have previously reported how the courts have nipped, tucked, and even gnawed at the Miranda rule which requires the police to cease interrogation of a suspect upon his or her request for counsel. Regardless of the grammatical context, when Demesme uttered the words “give me a lawyer,” he had invoked the right to counsel under the Miranda rule.
That’s not the way the police interpreted the words. In all his law enforcement wisdom, Detective Baddoo did not know any “lawyer” dogs and besides he had never been instructed that a suspect has the right to the presence of a dog during a police interrogation. The detective continued to browbeat Demesme until he got the suspect to admit that he had sexually assaulted one of the girls but not the other.
Police and Courts Strain Logic to Uphold Conviction
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office adopted a similar stance. It said that because Demesme did not insert a comma between the words “lawyer” and “dog,” it was unclear to Detective Baddoo whether the suspect wanted a lawyer or a dog.
This comma issue is important.
That’s because the issue of whether Demesme’s admission could be used against him at a trial found its way before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Never bashful about expressing its constitutional acumen, the Louisiana Supreme Court in established case law has made it clear that if a criminal suspect does not invoke his right to counsel in an unambiguous and unequivocal manner, then the police do not have to cease questioning the suspect.
In common vernacular, this means that a Louisiana criminal suspect must say before or during a police interrogation:
“I want a lawyer, please.”
Or, “Give me a lawyer who is not a dog.”
In a brief 6-l decision issued by the Louisiana Supreme Court on November 3, 2017, Associate Justice Scott J. Crichton, writing for the majority, said that Demesme did not ask for a “lawyer” but rather asked for a “lawyer dog.”
Supreme Court Justice Finds Suspect Asked for a … Dog
Justice Crichton concluded: “In my view, [Demesme’s] ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the [police] interview.”
We don’t know how many dogs have graduated from Louisiana law schools and have been admitted to practice law in the state by the Louisiana Bar Association, but apparently Justice Crichton and five of his fellow justices believe there are some canines who have passed the requirements for admission to the state’s bar.
There is no other takeaway from their constitutional interpretation of the Miranda rule.
It would be funny, if it wasn’t such a flagrant insult to our Constitution and the rule of law…