Tag Archives: confession

LA Supreme Court: It’s Reasonable to Believe “Give Me a Lawyer Dog” was Request for a Dog Who is a Lawyer

Lawyer Dog Louisiana Supreme Court Canine Attorney

Lawyer Dog should really ask Grumpy Judge to recuse herself. #JusSayin

Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a ruling on a motion to suppress evidence against Warren Demesme, who is currently awaiting trial in New Orleans. By a 6-1 majority the court denied that motion, which maintained that statements Demesme had made should be thrown because the police had ignored his request for legal counsel during interrogations.

What’s gotten a lot of attention (and rightfully so) since that ruling is the courts’ contention that Demesme’s request was ambiguous and unclear. But even more so for the reasoning behind the ruling. Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly argued in his response to the motion that Demesme’s statement, “just give me a lawyer dog,” could be misinterpreted by a “reasonable officer” based on the use of the words “lawyer dog.”

In a brief accompanying the decision, Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton agreed that the defendant’s use of “lawyer dog” could be misconstrued to mean something else and therefore did not qualify as a request for counsel.

Via the Washington Post:

Warren Demesme, then 22, was being interrogated by New Orleans police in October 2015 after two young girls claimed he had sexually assaulted them. It was the second time he’d been brought in, and he was getting a little frustrated, court records show. He had repeatedly denied the crime. Finally, Demesme told the detectives:

“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.” The punctuation, arguably critical to Demesme’s use of the sobriquet “dog,” was provided by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office in a brief, and then adopted by Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton.

Demesme subsequently made admissions to the crime, prosecutors said, and was charged with aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile. He is being held in the Orleans Parish jail awaiting trial.

The public defender for Orleans Parish, Derwyn D. Bunton, took on Demesme’s case and filed a motion to suppress Demesme’s statement. In a court brief, Bunton noted that police are legally bound to stop questioning anyone who asks for a lawyer. “Under increased interrogation pressure,” Bunton wrote, “Mr. Demesme invokes his right to an attorney, stating with emotion and frustration, ‘Just give me a lawyer.’” The police did not stop their questioning, Bunton argued, “when Mr. Demesme unequivocally and unambiguously asserted his right to counsel.”

Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton

Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton

Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly responded in his brief that Demesme’s “reference to a lawyer did not constitute an unambiguous invocation of his right to counsel, because the defendant communicated that whether he actually wanted a lawyer was dependent on the subjective beliefs of the officers.” Daly added, “A reasonable officer under the circumstances would have understood, as [the detectives] did, that the defendant only might be invoking his right to counsel.”

Bunton’s motion to throw out Demesme’s statement was rejected by the trial court and the appeals court, so he took it to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in a ruling issued last Friday and first reported by Reason, could have denied the appeal without issuing a written ruling, which it does in most cases. But Justice Crichton decided to write a brief concurrence “to spotlight the very important constitutional issue regarding the invocation of counsel during a law enforcement interview.”

Crichton noted that Louisiana case law has ruled that “if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal . . . the cessation of questioning is not required.” Crichton then concluded: “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.”

So…

There’s a lot of things wrong with that decision. The most obvious issue is that they didn’t actually provide him with a dog who is a lawyer, as they claim they thought he had requested. It’s probably not the wisest move to request a dog to represent you in court, but if he’s a good boy and graduated from an accredited law school, who am I to cast aspersions?

Of course, that’s kind of the biggest problem with the “logic” of this ruling. They couldn’t give him a “lawyer dog” because, outside of memes on the internets, it’s not an actual thing. At this point in history, not one single dog has ever managed to pass the bar exam. Not Lassie, not Rin Tin Tin, not Benji, not even Snoopy. Scooby Doo is way to high to even think about taking the SAT’s, let alone the LSAT’s, and don’t even get me started on Marmaduke.

If any dog could have pulled it off, it obviously would have been Brian Griffin, but he died tragically after eating chocolate out of the garbage years ago. So, he’s not available right now.

What it boils down to is, if somebody asks for legal council, as is their constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment, you shouldn’t just be able to pretend you didn’t understand them because they used some (not uncommon) slang. In fact, if for some reason they ask for a “lawyer dog,” but there aren’t any available (or willing to work pro bone-o), then you give them a lawyer human instead.

It’s hard to have a lot of faith in the U.S. Injustice System, especially after rulings like this (not to mention all the coerced confessions and false convictions they allow for). However, you would hope that some sense of common decency and shame would compel the next appeals court this goes in front of to render a proper ruling on this nonsense.

I have a suspicion this might be a big part of the reason why the State of Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.

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Fourteen Members of “Law Enforcement” Charged As Result Of An FBI Drug Sting in North Carolina

Earlier this week, it was announced that after a two year long drug sting involving the FBI a total of fourteen members of law enforcement have been charged with drug crimes, including eleven within the state of North Carolina. According to WRAL-TV, all of the arrestees from North Carolina have confessed since being arrested. It wasn’t clear if that was part of a plea deal or if they simply chose to confess (my money is on door #1).

The arrests for charges related to cocaine and heroin included eight current or former police officers, three correctional officers, two Virginia prison employees, and one 911 dispatcher. The dispatcher, as well as all eight of the law enforcement  officers except one work or had worked for the Northampton County (NC) Sheriff’s Office. That includes five current and two former NCSO deputies.

Via WSPA News 7:

Thomas Walker, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, said multiple people were arrested in a major sting of cocaine and heroin operations. Those arrested include five current members of the Northampton County sheriff’s office.

They were charged with trafficking cocaine and heroin up and down the I-95 corridor.

On Wednesday in court, prosecutors showed photos and video of alleged wrong-doing, WRAL reported.

“They all gave some sort of confession,” a prosecutor told the judge, according to the TV station. “Each of these defendants admitted to their involvement.”

Nine of the officers were not granted bail on Wednesday because the judge said he needed more time to review the case, according to WRAL.

Walker said there were arrests at an airport in Halifax County and a warehouse in Rocky Mount. A second group was arrested at a warehouse in Rocky Mount. The undercover operation, called “Operation Rockfish,” has been ongoing for about a year and a half…

Arrested were:

  • Ikeisha Jacobs, 32, a deputy with the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Jason Boon, 29, a Northampton deputy
  • Jimmy Pair, 48, a Northampton deputy
  • Curtis Boone, 31, a Northampton deputy
  • Thomas Jefferson Allen II, 37, a Northampton deputy
  • Wardie Vincent Jr., 35, a former Northampton deputy
  • Cory Jackson, 43, formerly with the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Antonio Tillmon, 31, a Windsor City policeman
  • Adrienne Moody, 39, a North Carolina correctional officer
  • Alaina Sue Kamling, 27, a North Carolina correctional officer
  • Kavon Phillips, 25, a North Carolina correctional officer
  • Lann Tjuan Clanton, 36, a correctional officer with the Virginia Department of Corrections
  • Alphonso Ponton, 42, a Virginia correctional officer
  • Tohsa Dailey, 31, a 911 dispatch operator for Northampton County
  • Crystal Pierce, 31, of Raleigh

FBI Agent John Strong, who said he and the other agents involved were shocked (I tellya!) by the involvement of police officers, characterized it as “a breach of the public’s trust” in which those officers used their positions “to line their own pockets.”

Another guy who is shocked (I tellya!) is Northhampton County Sheriff Jack Smith, who saw roughly 15% of his 35 deputy department marched away in handcuffs, as a result of the case. He agreed with Agent Strong that this type of thing just cannot be tolerated, especially from members of law enforcement, stating:

“They’ve let me down. They’ve let the sheriff’s office down,” Smith said. “They’ve let the citizens down as well as their families. Most of them have children and they’ve let the down as well.”

For the record, guess who is not surprised at all by this and won’t be in any way surprised when they all get light sentences and possibly even just probation. (I’m talking about me, in case that isn’t really obvious.)

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Police Lineups, False Identifications, And Wrongful Convictions

The following post was shared with the CopBlock Network anonymously, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. It was originally published at the Pacific Standard by Sue Russell in September 2012 and reposted at Salon.com.

Why Police Lineups Can’t Be Trusted

The single biggest cause of wrongful convictions is mistaken eyewitness identification. Is there a better way?

Studies have shown that memory and recall are more fallible than failsafe. That finding undermines eyewitness identifications—a critical prosecution mainstay—revealing them as far more fragile evidence than imagined. Just ask Rickey Dale Wyatt of Dallas, Texas. On January 4, 2012, he was released from prison after serving 31 years of a 99-year sentence for a rape he did not commit.

Police were sure that a single rapist had committed a cluster of rapes when they arrested Wyatt for three assaults.

The third victim, who had been grabbed from behind and dragged at knifepoint to a dimly lit area, was the first to identify Wyatt. Ultimately, all three picked Wyatt from photographic lineups. All had described their rapists as being between 170 and 200 pounds, between 5’9” and 6’, and as having no facial hair. Wyatt is 5’6”, was close to 140 pounds—and he had abundant facial hair and a mustache.

While Victim No. 3 identified Wyatt in the photo lineup, she had failed to do so in a live lineup (which wasn’t recorded). That failure, and knowledge of the lineup’s very existence, was withheld from Wyatt’s defense attorney.

Wyatt stood trial for one rape: the first. While his nephew testified that he’d never weighed more than 140 pounds, a police officer testified that after Wyatt’s arrest the suspect had lost approximately 30 pounds in 10 days.

Wyatt, then 25, declined a plea deal for a 5-year sentence and defended his innocence in front of a jury. He lost.

There was much that jurors did not know. Innocence Project lawyers who eventually fought to free Wyatt found that police and prosecutors held back exculpatory photographic evidence of the physical appearance mismatch—then-recent photographs showing Wyatt with facial hair, weight approximately 135 pounds. They also alleged that a report in which the third victim put her attacker at around 200 pounds was suppressed; at his sentencing hearing, the third rape victim publicly identified Wyatt as her rapist.

Wyatt’s complex case had more problems than just lineup problems, starting with an inadequate legal defense. Body fluid tests did not link Wyatt to the rape, and his trial lawyer failed to challenge it. The attorney also failed to present evidence like recent hospital records that would have shown Wyatt had facial hair.

Wyatt’s conviction was vacated thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project and Dallas’s Conviction Integrity Unit and District Attorney’s office, which pushed for DNA testing. Also key: the city of Dallas’ propensity for saving physical evidence likely to have been discarded elsewhere to save on the cost of storage.

The need to reform eyewitness identification procedures has been recognized in recent years, but actual changes have lagged. Although the Department of Justice issued its “Eyewitness Evidence, A Guide for Law Enforcement” (pdf ) in 1999, calling for written protocols on eyewitness evidence, many U.S. police departments still lack written protocols. Last June, 10 states including Texas enacted legislation requiring all law enforcement agencies to create written procedures.

Misidentification is the single biggest common denominator in wrongful convictions, and a factor in 72 percent of cases overturned by DNA nationwide. In 50 percent of those convictions, shaky eyewitness testimony was not shored up by physical evidence or other corroboration like a confession or informant testimony.

In 2001, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to adopt federally recommended guidelines on witness identifications after mounting awareness of the old methods’ fallibility (such as eyewitnesses being influenced by unintentional verbal or body clues from investigators).

But those improvements still didn’t go far enough, said experts.

The 2004 case of Larry Henderson, sentenced to 11 years for reckless manslaughter and weapons possession in connection with a fatal shooting in Camden, pushed New Jersey to examine its standards again.

In his appeal, Henderson argued that police had failed to follow the guidelines adopted in 2001 and that the police photo lineup conducted 13 days after the murder improperly swayed a witness to pick him out. The witness later testified that a police officer had moved the photographs around as if hinting which to select and that “there was pressure” to make a choice.

An appellate panel in 2008 called the Henderson lineup “a charade” and ordered a new hearing on the photographic evidence’s admissibility. The state appealed. In response, the New Jersey Supreme Court said that before it would address the issue, it wanted a full inquiry into procedures used in the state’s eyewitness identifications.

That’s when, says Barry Scheck, cofounder and co-director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, “they did something that courts should do much more with science and the law. … They remanded it to a special master, a very smart retired judge”—in this case former New Jersey State Appellate Judge Geoffrey Gaulkin.

Gaulkin’s task was to determine if New Jersey’s identification procedures were scientifically sound. He held hearings and reviewed more than 2,000 pertinent scientific studies published since the 1977 introduction of the Manson test. The test is a two-step process that first decides whether the eyewitness procedures police used to identify a suspect were impermissibly suggestive. If so, courts must then determine, using a five-part reliability factor test, whether the identification still should be admissible. Bottom line: even if there are problems with the procedure, unless there is a “very substantial” likelihood of an “irreparable” misidentification, courts must allow the identification into evidence.

In a June 2010 report (pdf), Gaulkin wrote that the short answer to the court’s question whether the test and associated procedures were “‘valid and appropriate in light of recent scientific and other evidence’ is that they are not.”

His report called for a major overhaul of the legal standards governing whether or not eyewitness testimony is allowed in court. And he recommended that memories be treated as “fragile, difficult to verify and subject to contamination.” During his research, he’d come to view them as more akin to trace evidence: “a fragment collected at the scene of a crime like a fingerprint or a blood smear, whose integrity and reliability needs to be monitored and assessed from the point of its recovery to its ultimate presentation at trial.”

 Not only can law enforcement unconsciously lead a witness towards identifying a suspect, he noted, but they—along with other witnesses or family members—can unconsciously contaminate a witness’s memory. What those people say and do can bolster, indeed overinflate, a witness’s level of certainty in their identification.

Cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror of the University College of London points to psychological research that shows  “time and time again no correlation between confidence and accuracy.” Yet heightened confidence can easily be mistakenly read that way, leading a court to allow improperly overstated evidence and jurors to give it too much weight.

Gaulkin recommended that judges and juries alike be made fully aware of all scientific facts that can impact eyewitness identifications’ trustworthiness and that the burden be on prosecutors to provide proof that evidence and testimony is reliable. He concurred with Innocence Project recommendations that courts examine scientific variables that can impact accuracy by hearing testimony from eyewitnesses and police officers pre-trial at admissibility hearings.

“That was a very big deal,” says Barry Scheck. “For years, we’ve been working with experimental psychologists on eyewitness identification issues and on getting the courts to change their standards for assessing that evidence, and on changing the way they do pretrial reliability hearings to make them more in accordance with the science.”

Professor Daniel Medwed of the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, also favors pre-trial review. “It just enhances decision making at the front end,” he says. “And the better the decision on the front end, the better everything will play out. Because once you make a decision, because of cognitive bias, people often become very wedded to that initial decision. You can call it tunnel vision, confirmation bias, expectancy bias, whatever…but it’s very common.”

New Jersey set aside the Manson test in August 2011. Now eyewitness identification procedures must be captured by cameras. New Jersey judges also must hold hearings—mid-trial if necessary—to weigh fairness when a defendant presents evidence that an identification procedure was unfairly suggestive. And judges must convey to juries that memory is imperfect and that recall can be wrong or distorted. Jury instructions must explain factors that may affect identification dependability, including lighting, poor eyesight, the length of an encounter, whether a witness was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and whether a weapon was being brandished.

Plus, studies show people have more trouble differentiating faces of races not their own and more mistakes happen in cross-racial identifications. Innocence Project research found that to be the case in 53 percent of mistaken-identification cases where the race is known.

The Innocence Project wants states to mandate uniform procedures that include recording lineup proceedings and having blind administration: lineups with pictures or people shown one at a time by officers who don’t know if a suspect is even present. And it recommends witnesses write “confidence statements” immediately after they view a lineup, expressing—in their own words—their level of faith in any identification.

In 2006, a year-long field study conducted by Illinois state police seemed to contradict earlier research, which consistently found fewer mistaken identifications if eyewitnesses view lineup participants one at a time when making identification decisions. But the Illinois study’s design was deemed flawed, more research followed, and a recent study conducted by the American Judicature Society has added to earlier research showing fewer errors in lineups that are sequential rather than simultaneous.

Specifically, it found that viewing lineup participants singly rather than simultaneously—where witnesses must rely on their memories and not on making comparisons—doesn’t significantly reduce the number of accurate positive identifications. Nor does it impede a witness’s ability to make an identification. But it does lead to a significant reduction in witnesses selecting “fillers”—the non-suspects put in lineups. In simultaneous lineups, fillers were picked out 18.1 percent of the time but only 12.2 percent of the time in sequential lineups.

According to eyewitness expert and American Judicature Society study co-author Gary Wells, the future is likely to see a shift to computer-generated lineups designed to reduce bias or investigator influence. Wells also is studying what happens to an eyewitness trying to identify a perpetrator when their memories fail.

“Instead of the person sort of bailing out when memory fails and saying ‘Gee, I don’t know’ or ‘I guess I’m not going to identify anyone,’ secondary processes kick in,” Wells, an Iowa State University psychology professor exploring these issues for 35 years, explained in a statement. “And rather than the primary processes, which are automatic, these secondary processes require more thinking. We call them deliberative. People tend to be more conscious of these. They’re engaged in a process of reasoning and they tend to be more verbal.” As far as misidentifications go, says Wells, these processes “tend to be the dangerous ones.”

Lineup designs, meanwhile, continue to improve, as do legal protections. Thanks to its Supreme Court ruling, New Jersey now has the nation’s toughest guidelines and offers a blueprint—“a new legal architecture,” as Scheck calls it—that may spur nationwide reform.

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NYPD Costs Taxpayers Over $66 Million Dollars After Six People Wrongfully Imprisoned For Murder

Four men and one woman have accepted a settlement offer after being released for a 1995 murder they didn’t commit. Each of them had served 18 years in prison due to “unethical tactics” by NYPD detectives, including coaching witnesses, breaking the rules for photo lineups, and withholding video evidence that would have contradicted a major witness.

The “Soundview Five” will receive $40 million dollars collectively from New York taxpayers in this settlement. Previously, they had received $19.45 million in another settlement over the wrongful convictions. In addition, the estate of a sixth person also falsely convicted, who has since died, received a $6.89 million settlement. All told, the totals for all three settlements equal $66.34 million that the NYPD will be forcing the citizens of New York State to pay.

Via the New York Daily News:

The city settled lawsuits Thursday brought by five wrongly convicted people who spent nearly two decades in prison, agreeing to pay out $40 million — one of the largest such amounts in city history.

The four men and one woman were wrongly identified as the killers in two 1995 murders, at least one of which was linked to a vicious gang in the Soundview section of the Bronx called “Sex Money Murder.”

The quintet was dubbed the “Soundview Five,” a reference to the high-profile Central Park Five who settled their lawsuits with the city for $41 million in 2014, after being wrong convicted of beating and raping a jogger in 1989.

The Soundview Five were released in 2012 and 2013 after new evidence surfaced that the real killers had confessed to one of the murders. Before Thursday’s agreement, they had previously settled with the state in the Court of Claims for a separate $19.45 million.

Earl Ward of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady and Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, the lawyers for Perez and Michael Cosme, another member of the quintet, issued a joint statement Thursday.

“So many lives were ruined by the shoddy, flawed, and unconstitutional police work that no amount of money could ever compensate our clients for their lost years,” the statement said. “But the settlement reaffirms what they have been saying for 20 years — ‘We are Innocent!’ ”

Perez, Cosme, Cathy Watkins, Eric Glisson and Devon Ayers were just starting their lives when they were arrested by police for the murders of a cab driver and a Federal Express executive in the Bronx in 1995.

Glisson, Vasquez, Ayers and Cosme knew each other from the neighborhood, but Perez and Watkins didn’t know any of them. Watkins didn’t even live in the Bronx.

Cops used unethical tactics to build their case against the quintet, including coaching witnesses on what to say and violating rules for photo lineups, Ward said. He said police also withheld a security video that would have undermined a key witness’s testimony.

“These suits were brought by people who together spent nearly one hundred years in prison, whose convictions were vacated by the Court after reviews by federal and local prosecutors,” a city Law Department spokesman said. “The parties have agreed to resolve these longstanding and complex cases through settlements we believe are fair and in the best interests of the city.”

All five were convicted and got life sentences, but they never gave up trying to get someone to listen to their pleas of innocence. They wrote letter after letter after letter to everyone they could think of.

In 2012, the convictions began to collapse when Glisson wrote a letter to an investigator with the U.S. Attorney’s office. That investigator, John O’Malley, read the letter and recalled that when two of the gang members agreed to cooperate years earlier, they admitted to killing the cabbie.

“He told us that when he read the letter, it sent shivers up his spine because he realized two people he had spoken to years earlier had confessed to the crime,” Ward said.

O’Malley provided an affidavit to the court, and the Bronx District Attorney eventually agreed not to oppose their release. The quintet then filed suit.

Perez, who was knifed in prison in 2003, said he clung to his faith to survive the long ordeal.

“I cried every day for 18 years,” he said. “You have that faith that someday you will be free. One day.”

Of course, there’s nothing in the article about the punishment the cops and prosecutors who ruined these six people’s lives will (not) be receiving for the “shoddy, flawed, and unconstitutional police work” that sent them to prison for 18 years each, even though they were completely innocent. Not surprisingly, the taxpayers will be the only ones being punished for that.

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