Police officers suspected the defendant of committing a murder and brought him to their office. After being read his rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (similar to Miranda rights), the defendant waived his rights to remain silent or to consult with an attorney and agreed to be interviewed by the officers. About a half hour into the interview, the defendant stated “Maybe I should talk to a lawyer.” The officers stated this request would be respected if the defendant wanted to speak to an attorney. The defendant stated “No, I’m not asking for a lawyer,” and continued with the interview for another hour. At that point, the defendant confirmed that he wanted to speak to an attorney before saying anything else and the interview was terminated. The government used several incriminating statements made during the interview at the defendant’s court-martial.
Whether the defendant’s statement concerning whether he should speak to a lawyer was a legal request for an attorney?
No. The defendant’s request for counsel must be unequivocal.
The right to request counsel during custodial interrogation was designed to act as a safeguard against the police badgering a defendant into waiving previously asserted Miranda rights. At that moment, the government must discontinue their efforts to interview a suspect. However, the suspect must assert his right before this safeguard takes effect. The Supreme Court noted that it has a long history of denying the assertion of rights based on ambiguous references by a suspect. The suspect must articulate his desire to have counsel present in a sufficiently clear manner so that a reasonable officer would understand that such articulation is a request for counsel. Otherwise, questioning of the suspect may continue.
512 U.S. 452, 114 S. Ct. 2350 (1994)