Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Think I Just Asked For An Attorney

When a suspect being questioned tells the police that “I think I need an attorney” and the police officer writes in his notes that the suspect “asked for” a lawyer, there is no support for a holding that the request for counsel was equivocal. That apparently non-exceptional statement is the holding of the Court of Appeals in People v Porter, _ NY3d _ [11/15/07]. What makes it worth noting is that a divided Appellate Division, Fourth Department ruled otherwise (Here).

The majority’s description of the facts omitted any mention of the officer’s notes. By contrast, the dissenting opinion of Justice Gorski, not only mentioned the police officer's notes, but explained that they reflect his understanding of what the suspect’s statement - that he had "asked for" an attorney. Justice Gorski’s dissent also pointed out that “.. in advising defendant that his statement did not sufficiently invoke his right to counsel, the officer effectively dissuaded defendant from further efforts to invoke his right to counsel.”

It should be noted that the Court of Appeals did not hold that interrogation must cease every time a suspect being questioned by the police says “I think I need an attorney.” Rather, the Court held that
This is not to say that utterance of the words defendant used would unequivocally invoke the right to counsel in every instance. But on this record, where there were no additional facts upon which a contrary inference could be drawn, further inquiry by the police was not permitted.

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