Tag Archives: new orleans

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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Three New Orleans Police Officers Caught Selling Untaxed Cigarettes; Not Choked to Death

Late last month, six people including three New Orleans police officers, were indicted as part of an illegal tobacco smuggling ring. The scheme, which lasted just about one year, involved smuggling cigarettes and cigars across state lines in order to avoid paying federal and state taxes.

Officers Justin Brown and Joshua Carthon, of the New Orleans Police Department and Deputy Garrett Partman, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, are accused of accepting bribes in exchanging for transporting the products across state lines and providing protection during the trips.

Via TheAdvocate.com:

Federal prosecutors say the conspiracy began in September 2015, when two Gretna men, Jadallah Saed, 30, and Anwar “Tony” Abdelmajid-Ahmad, 29, started buying thousands of cartons of cigarettes considered by the authorities to be contraband because they had no state tax stamps on their packaging.

Authorities said the racket involved at least 15,000 cartons of cigarettes. It was unclear where they obtained the cigarettes.

Beginning in January, the indictment says, the two police officers, joined by Abdelmajid-Ahmad, would transport the cigarettes to another co-defendant in North Carolina, Atalla Atalla, a 38-year-old Wilmington man known as “Tommy.” The officers made their second trip in March but were joined this time by Partman, the indictment alleges.

The defendants face a host of charges, including conspiring to traffic contraband cigarettes, evading federal excise tax and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises.

Partman, 31, resigned from the Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, said Philip Stelly, an agency spokesman. Stelly said Partman was hired in January 2010, but it was not clear whether he had been assigned to the city’s jail or the Sheriff’s Office’s civil division.

Meanwhile, the two officers, Brown and Carthon, were placed on emergency suspension without pay this week, officials said. Brown, 29, has been with the New Orleans Police Department for four years and most recently was assigned to the Special Operations Division.

Carthon, 32, is a seven-year veteran and most recently served in the 7th District, which covers New Orleans East. He previously was suspended for 25 days following an April 2014 drunk-driving incident in which he crashed his pickup while driving with a blood-alcohol content of .131. He also was involved in a fatal officer-involved shooting following an armed robbery last year, which the authorities deemed to be justified.

I’d say I was surprised by that last paragraph, but it’s getting hard to find a report of a cop who was (finally) busted that already didn’t have a long list of previous misconduct and very mild slaps on the wrist. One thing I did find just a bit odd was that, unlike Eric Garner in New York, the cops in New Orleans weren’t forced to choke any of these guys to death for selling untaxed cigarettes.

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Former Chicago Bears Superbowl QB Jim McMahon Urges NFL Allow Medical Marijuana For Players

Jim McMahon Medical Marijuana NFL

Jim McMahon, the Superbowl XX winning quarterback from the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team which is often considered one of the best all-time teams and arguably the best defense in the history of the NFL, has joined the long list of people advocating for the medical use of marijuana.

Currently, McMahon is battling symptoms attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), such as early dementia, severe headaches, memory loss and depression, all of which have been attributed to the effects of multiple concussions and for obvious reasons are especially prevalent among people involved in contact sports.

Even in states in which medical marijuana has already been legalized, the National Football League prohibits its use among players. Anyone testing positive for marijuana use, regardless of local laws (even in Washington and Colorado, which both allow recreational use), are subject to punishments that increase with each instance.

McMahon made his statements advocating for marijuana as an alternative to opiates for pain management while appearing as part of a panel discussion by retired NFL players at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo. The panel was held at Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center.

Via the Sporting News:

The panel, according to the New York Daily News, was moderated by former Giants defensive lineman Leonard Marshall and included former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson, former Broncos wide receiver Charlie Adams and former Jaguars offensive tackle Eben Britton.

McMahon, who is dealing with early dementia, severe headaches, memory loss and depression — all symptoms associated with too many concussions — believes he would be healthier now if he was allowed to use marijuana instead of pills during his playing career. Marijuana is an effective pain killer and less harmful than opiods, McMahon said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from [painkillers] and there’s not one case of people dying from the hemp plant,” McMahon said.

Britton added, “Juxtaposing my experiences with pharmaceutical drugs like Vicodin and Percocet, that made me angry and irritable, frustrated, didn’t get rid of any of the pain, made it difficult to sleep, increased my heart rate and made me feel crazy. On the other side of that there’s cannabis that helped me sleep, put me into a healing state of being where I was relieved from stress and anxiety as well as feeling the pain relief.”

Jackson, who appeared on an edition of HBO’s Real Sports that dealt with the same issue, added, “The owners of these teams are, by and large, wealthy men who are older and do not understand that this is a pretty innocuous substance.”

As is also mentioned in the Sporting News article, this offseason the Baltimore Ravens cut Eugene Monroe, a former first round pick who has campaigned publicly for the acceptance of medical marijuana in the NFL. Many people, including Monroe, have attributed that move to his strong advocacy for cannabis use, although the Ravens have denied that is the case.

Jim McMahon Superbowl XX MoonMcMahon, who was known as much for his flamboyant attitude and defiance of arbitrary or silly rules as he was for his play on the field, is no stranger to alternative medical practices or controversy. In one of the more famous photos from the build up to Superbowl XX, he mooned a helicopter while wearing a headband that said “ACUPUNCTURE” on it.

He later explained that he was just showing the media where he had received treatment for an injury he had received in a game the previous week. (The headband derived from an incident earlier in the season where he was fined $5,000 for having an Adidas label on his head band during a game and subsequently wore a headband with “ROZELLE” written on it in reference to the league commissioner, who had fined him.)

Jim McMahon Rozelle HeadbandIt’s silly and contradictory that the NFL approves the use of opiates and all kinds of other horrible pharmaceutical medications for players if they have a prescription (and sometimes without even having one), but prohibits the same medical rights for cannabis patients, even in locations where it can be legally prescribed by a doctor. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for players with lingering injuries to receive shots that numb the affected area in order to play during a game. Stories have even emerged of players receiving such shots in the locker room during a game in which they were injured.

So, it’s clearly not a case of the NFL being opposed to drug use in general or a concern for the safety or health of players. Their refusal to accept that playing in the NFL and improper care for concussions in the past increased the chances of players developing CTE alone is proof of that not being true.

The least they could do is give those players the option of using a safe and non-addictive option to treat the pain is inherent to the game. Being that there are different laws in the different cities which have NFL teams, there’s a small complication in the fact that some players would have access to legal medical marijuana while others wouldn’t because they state they live in still living in the dark ages.

However, in reality, all they would have to do is remove it from the list of drugs which they test for. Legally, they are not under any obligation to test for drugs, whether they are illegal or otherwise. Players certainly make enough money that they could set up residence during the offseason within the states that do allow its use for the next four or five years or so until it’s made legal not just for medical use, but for recreational use as well, nationwide. (That writings on the wall in big letters.)

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Federal “Investigations” Only Enable Local Police Departments’ Abuses

The following post was originally posted at NationalInterest.org by  under the title “Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing.” It addresses the idea that having a the Department of Justice (DoJ) or some other federal agency such as the FBI investigate abuses by local police or court official will lead to a fair or meaningful resolution.

Despite the prevalence of calls for the Federal Government to intervene in high profile cases, the truth is that what really happens when the Feds step in is it delays and distracts from the original issues and almost always leads to (intentionally) ineffective and superficial reform proposals, most of which are often not even adopted.

Many times after the “investigation” by federal officials has afforded time for tempers to cool and the spotlight has been removed from those on the local level, they end vindicating the abusers anyway or proposing a slew of hollow changes. When the “cavalry” arrives, they’re usually shooting blanks.

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Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing

Federal intervention allows local officials to evade responsibility.

It has been one year since Freddie Gray died while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. Gray’s death sparked peaceful protests and then calamitous riots that brought international attention and prompted the deployment of National Guard units. While local prosecutors indicted the officers involved in Gray’s arrest, the federal government promised to investigate the entire police department for a “pattern or practice” of constitutional violations. The impending outcome of that inquiry seems foreordained. The real question is whether federal monitoring can truly fix a broken police department. The conventional wisdom is that it can, but experience tells us that it can be counterproductive.

Since the Ferguson riot in 2014, police departments across the country have been under unprecedented scrutiny. When a pattern of wrongdoing or dysfunction is exposed, we hear a familiar refrain: this department is so bad that it is incapable of correcting itself, so federal intervention is necessary. After some initial resistance, the city of Ferguson has now agreed to a federal monitor. Last week, Newark also agreed to a federal monitor, to oversee its troubled police force. The Justice Department has also investigated and instituted reforms in many of the United States’ big-city police departments—Los Angeles, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, to name a few.

Police StateClearly, police misconduct is more widespread than many want to admit. In Chicago, the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, caught on camera, has roiled minority neighborhoods because they see it as only the most recent episode of police wrongdoing there. It is safe to say that other cities may be one incident away from similar unrest.

Mayors and city councils don’t want police misconduct to occur, but in too many cities they let the problem fester. To the extent that they’re even paying attention, the typical political calculation seems to be this: it’s better to have the support of the police department and police union come election time, so don’t take steps that they will oppose.

There is, however, a cost to that political calculation: minority resentment toward city government—especially the police. After all, the victims of illegal detention, illegal searches and excessive force have friends, neighbors and relatives. And when bad cops are not dealt with, it is not unfair to conclude that the department itself is indifferent to injustice. This explains the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When a shocking incident of police misconduct comes along, the fecklessness of local governance is exposed in the glare of the media spotlight. Suddenly, reporters are asking pointed questions. Exactly how many people have been shot by the police department? Why was video evidence withheld from the public? What accountability systems are in place to track and remove problem officers?

The optimal moment for police reform comes in the immediate aftermath of a police scandal. The public is aroused, and if the problems run deep into the department itself, voters want those problems corrected. Local politicians find themselves on the spot. They can’t afford to appear uninterested, but they’d rather not fight the police department either. Instead of rolling up their sleeves to make some politically difficult decisions, they posture as reformers by joining the chorus calling for a federal civil rights investigation.

When the feds do intervene, everyone seems to be pleased. The heat is off the local officials to address police misconduct. They say they’ll have to await the outcome of the federal investigation before taking any action. Federal officials are pleased because they are seen as the cavalry coming to the rescue. Civil rights activists are satisfied because they think a federal lawsuit will bring about needed reforms. The police department and police union benefit as well. The intense media scrutiny will now fade as the months roll past.

Unfortunately, federal intervention has a counterproductive “enabling” effect: it allows local officials to evade their responsibility to fix broken police organizations. When the local politicos make a plea for federal intervention, it deflects attention away from their oversight failure and actually squanders the prospect for sweeping changes at a pivotal moment.

There is a borderline reverence for federal intervention among academics and journalists, which has blinded them to political dynamics that should strike us as odd. On the surface, it appears as if the feds are imposing wide-ranging reforms on local officialdom. In truth, however, the local officials chose that outcome once the feds were invited in. Here’s the quandary: the local politicos had the capability to enact reforms all along, so why didn’t they embrace such measures to head off a federal lawsuit? Experience has shown, time and again, that local officials would rather cope with federal monitors than fight powerful police unions.

Federal monitors have not succeeded where local officials are intransigent about reform. Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, is an example. Arpaio may lose a case in court, but he remains defiant and wins reelection. There have been improvements in the cities with reform-minded mayors and police chiefs—but in those cases, federal monitors were never really necessary. The monitors merely provided the local officials with additional political leverage against the police lobby. Local political fights, however, should not be considered an appropriate basis for federal lawsuits and federal takeovers of local police operations.

Police misconduct is a serious problem. If the solution was simple, it would have already been adopted. The hard truth is that a good police department requires the sustained commitment of locally elected officials to that goal. If that commitment is absent, federal intervention will only obscure that reality, and make it more difficult for voters to hold the local politicos accountable for their neglect.

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2015 Was a Record Year For Exonerations of Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners

As originally reported by Mother Jones, a report from the University of Michigan Law School has declared that 2015 set a new record for the highest amount of people that have been freed after it was proven that they were wrongfully convicted. As detailed in the report, there were several reasons why innocent people ended up behind bars. that ranged from outright misconduct by prosecutors and police to those pressured into taking a plea bargain even though they were actually innocent.

Shockingly, there were actually 75 total cases in which no actual crime (even victimless ones) were even committed in the first place. Also, included within the 149 people released were five individuals awaiting the death penalty. Pointed out within the report is the fact that a combination of those two factors led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas, in spite of a wide range of evidence that the fire his three children died in was accidental and not a case of arson, for which he was convicted and subsequently killed.

It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of those wrongfully convicted resulted from the War On (Some) Drugs, many of which even if they had been valid would have involved non-violent victimless “crimes” in the first place.

Included below is the MotherJones.com article detailing the report and its conclusions:

Call it the Serial effect. According to a new report from the University of Michigan Law School’s National Registry of Exonerations, 2015 set a record for the number of wrongly convicted Americans who finally found justice. There were 149 people last year who were either declared innocent or otherwise cleared of the consequences of their convictions or guilty pleas. Many had served some lengthy prison time—the average exoneree had served nearly 15 years—for crimes they did not commit.

The data in the report paints a disturbing portrait of a criminal justice system riven with errors and official misconduct. Among the lowlights:

  • Innocent but pleaded guilty: An extraordinary number of the exonerations came in cases in which the defendants had pleaded guilty (65 out of 149), more than in any previous year since the registry started in 1989. These were mostly drug cases but also included eight homicides. Those who pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit tended to be mentally ill, intellectually disabled, or under the threat of an even longer prison sentence should they try to go to trial.
  • No-crime crimes: Seventy-five exonerations came in cases where it turned out no crime had even been committed. A number of these were old murder cases involving arson. They brought to mind the sad story of Cameron Todd Willingham, whom Texas executed in 2004 for allegedly murdering his three children through arson, despite significant evidence that the forensic arson investigation that led to his conviction was mostly bogus. Those same sorts of bogus fire investigations played a role in five of six of the homicide cases that led to exonerations last year in cases where officials ruled that no crime had been committed. In those cases, the defendants were luckier than Willingham: The fires that led to their murder convictions were shown to be accidents, not arson, and their convictions were vacated.
  • False confessions: In 27 of the exonerations in 2015, including 22 homicide cases, the defendants confessed to crimes they hadn’t committed. Many of these people were juveniles, mentally ill, or intellectually disabled—precisely the folks currently overrepresented on death row.
  • Official misconduct: Prosecutors and cops don’t come out looking good in the new report. Official misconduct was a factor in 75 percent of the homicide exonerations, a number that’s even bigger in the cases where there were false confessions. Eighty-two percent of those were the product of misconduct by cops or prosecutors.
  • Death penalty errors: Five of the exonerees in 2015 were death row inmates, three of whom had been there more than 20 years—more evidence of serious flaws in the capital punishment system.

National Registry of Exonerations

The exonerations were clustered in jurisdictions where local prosecutors had made significant efforts to reform their practices to prevent wrongful convictions. The largest number came from Harris County, Texas, where a new assistant district attorney in the post-conviction review section discovered that a lot of the cases coming through her office involved defendants who’d pleaded guilty to a drug crime, only to have lab work come back months later showing that the stuff cops had seized from the defendants wasn’t actually a controlled substance.

Washington Post columnist Radley Balko has dug into this issue and found that Harris County isn’t the only place with the problem. The field tests cops use to test for drugs are notoriously unreliable, and they’ve mistaken everything from chocolate chip cookies to cheese and tortilla dough for drugs. Nonetheless, the false guilty pleas—usually made under pressure and the threat of even longer prison sentences from a jury trial—often aren’t thrown out when later testing finds an absence of drugs. In 2014, the Harris County district attorney’s office launched a Conviction Integrity Unit to try addressing such problems. The result is a startling number of drug crime exonerations just from that one office—73 of them so far.

Such units within prosecutors’ offices offer hope for reforms to the criminal justice system. But the new report suggests they have a mixed record that can depend largely on the drive of an individual prosecutor rather than systemic support. Harris County has shown lots of promise, as has a unit in Brooklyn, which has been responsible for the exoneration of 16 murder defendants in the past two years. A more discouraging example came in New Orleans, which launched a Conviction Integrity Unit during the district attorney’s reelection campaign, in partnership with the local Innocence Project. According to the report, the unit kicked off in January 2015, worked on a single exoneration, and gave it up a year later.

Media accounts and shows like Serial and Making a Murderer have raised awareness about the problems with the criminal justice system and the prevalence of wrongful convictions, but the report urges caution before declaring victory. “As with climate change, the significance of the issue of false convictions is now widely acknowledged, despite committed doubters,” the authors write. “In other respects, we are far behind. We have no measure of the magnitude of the problem, no general plan for how to address it, and certainly no general commitment to do so. We’ve made a start, but that’s all.”

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