"I Want A Lawyer"
You would think that telling a police officer that you wish to have a lawyer present before answering any questions would be a simple, straightforward action. However, the fact of the matter is that unless you ask for a lawyer using the proper words AND ONLY the proper words, an officer is legally free to ignore your request and continue asking questions to try to get you to incriminate yourself.
Exercising your right to counsel requires "a statement that can reasonably be construed to be an expression of a desire for the assistance of an attorney." Police questioning is not required to stop if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that can be determined ambiguous or equivocal. (A statement is considered ambiguous or equivocal when a police officer thinks the suspect might be invoking the right to an attorney, but a direct request is not made.)
To give you an idea of how tricky this process is, here are a few statements that Indiana courts have determined were not requests for an attorney:
“Am I going to need an attorney?”
“Do I need an attorney?”
“What about an attorney?”
“Should I have an attorney?”
It’s not enough to simply have the word “lawyer” or “attorney” in a sentence, you have to make a clear demand for a lawyer that a police officer will not be able to later claim in court that he was not sure if you were asking for a lawyer. Steven Knecht recently won a reversal of a conviction on appeal when the trial court allowed into evidence the defendant’s videotaped confession of the defendant telling the officer present, “I want a lawyer so that way, you know, I don't have to worry about, you know, saying “I don't know” for the fifty-millionth time.”
That said, if you want to protect and preserve your constitutional rights, you only need to remember four words at the start of any police questioning: “I want a lawyer.”
Filed to Ask a LawyerBack to Blog