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Court rules man invoked right to counsel

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found a man’s question, “Can I get a lawyer?” during police questioning unambiguously and unequivocally invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel, so the trial court erred in denying the man’s motion to suppress statements he made to police.

In Dana L. Lewis, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 40A01-1106-CR-276, Dana Lewis was invited by Jennings County Sheriff’s Sergeant Karen McCoy for an interview regarding an alleged sex crime with a 13-year-old girl. McCoy told Lewis he was not under arrest and free to leave at any time, read him his Miranda rights, and then began asking Lewis about the crime. During questioning, Lewis asked, “Can I get a lawyer?” but police continued questioning Lewis. Lewis spoke about the alleged crime for a few more minutes until asking whether he was under arrest or would be under arrest. Lewis was arrested two days later and charged with Class A felony child molesting.

Lewis filed a motion to suppress his statements to McCoy, arguing they were obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment right to counsel. At a hearing, both parties stipulated that Lewis reasonably believed he was in custody and not free to leave, but the judge ultimately denied the motion.

The Court of Appeals reversed, rejecting the state’s argument that the trial court stipulation that Lewis believed he was in custody shouldn’t have any bearing on the appeal. The stipulation binds the state on the question of whether Lewis was in custody, wrote Judge Cale Bradford.

The judges cited United States v. Lee, 413 F.3d 622, 626 (7th Cir. 2005), in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed a suspect’s question “Can I have a lawyer?” to be similar to other statements recognized by the court as proper invocations of the right to an attorney.

“Much as the question, ‘Can I get the car tonight?’ would be universally understood as a request to borrow the car tonight, and not as a theoretical question regarding one’s ability to borrow the car tonight, we have little trouble concluding that Lewis’s question would be understood by any reasonable police officer as an unequivocal request for counsel,” Bradford wrote.

The appellate court remanded for further proceedings.

 

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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