Where My Lawyer At?

The SC Court of Appeals held last week that a suspect who said to a police officer, “Where my lawyer at?” did not invoke his right to counsel…

From State v. Jett: “Detective Felicia Jones met with Jett while he was detained in the patrol vehicle. Upon introducing herself as a police officer, Jett immediately said, ‘Where my lawyer at?’”

The detective then went on to read Jett’s rights to him and question him anyway. The SC Court of Appeals held that Jett’s statement, “Where my lawyer at?” was ambiguous and not a clear invocation of his right to counsel.

What is an Unambiguous Assertion of Your Right to Counsel?

It appears that no one will ever assert their right to counsel to the satisfaction of the appellate courts unless they are well educated, well spoken, and have a law degree.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Davis v. United States in 1994 that “Invocation of the Miranda right to counsel requires, at a minimum, some statement that can reasonably be construed to be an expression of a desire for the assistance of an attorney.”

I’m stumped as to how “where my lawyer at” could not “reasonably be construed to be an expression of a desire for the assistance of an attorney.” I think that I’m a reasonable person, and it sounds pretty clear to me…

The Davis court went on to say: “[I]f a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, our precedents do not require the cessation of questioning.”

The SC Court of Appeal’s interpretation of “where my lawyer at” as a statement that Jett “might” want an attorney and was therefore ambiguous is ridiculous. It echoes the Louisiana Supreme Court’s recent declaration that asking for a “lawyer, dawg” was ambiguous – according to Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton, reasonable people would not understand what a “lawyer dog” is, and therefore the request was ambiguous.

I Want My Attorney?

We don’t really know what an unambiguous assertion of our right to counsel is, after these appellate opinions. What do we know?

  • You must speak with proper grammar and sentence structure – if you don’t speak well-educated white person English, you will not be able to assert your right to counsel;
  • You cannot use colorful language – for example, if you add a word like “dawg” on the end of your sentence, you are not invoking your right to counsel;
  • You will need to read appellate cases on how to invoke your right to counsel before you attempt to invoke your right to counsel – you must be an attorney or at least able to brief appellate opinions; and
  • You will need to carefully use language that conforms to the social experience and upper-class white background of most appellate court justices.

This pretty much knocks out anyone who does not speak fluent English, most people who do not have a law degree, and most people who do not look like or talk like a Supreme Court justice.

So, for the benefit of the attorneys who would like to invoke their right to counsel one day, you should probably say something like, “I am hereby invoking my right to counsel, under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and I will not answer any questions until I have been provided with counsel.”

What if you just say, “I want my attorney?”

Well, most non-post-graduate degree, ordinary people would think that means exactly the same thing as “Where my lawyer at?” Therefore, please stick to the script:

“I am hereby invoking my right to counsel, under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and I will not answer any questions until I have been provided with counsel.”

Let’s look on the bright side – maybe the mostly white, law school graduate, proper-grammar-speaking, upper-class justices on the SC Supreme Court will fix this?

Criminal Defense Attorney in Charleston, SC

Grant B. Smaldone is a well-educated, proper-grammar speaking criminal defense lawyer in Charleston, S.C. who realizes that not everyone had the opportunity to attend law school and learn the finer points of well-to-do grammar and sentence structure.

If you have been charged with a crime in the Charleston area, call SC criminal defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.


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