Thursday, August 16, 2012
Police Must Honor Ambigious Request for Attorney
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in an en banc opinion that an ambiguous request for an attorney must be honored in Sessoms v. D. Runnels . The case involved a 1999 burglary in which one of Sessoms' accomplices committed a murder. Sessoms initially fled but later turned himself in at his father's urging. A videotape of the subsequent interrogation with police revealed Sessoms saying "There wouldn't be any possible way that I could have a...a lawyer present while we do this?" He continued with, "My dad asked me to ask you guys...uh, give me a lawyer." The detectives told Sessoms that having a lawyer would only hurt him and would also be futile because his accomplices had divulged everything. The officers then read Sessoms his Miranda rights, which he waived, proceeding to implicate himself in the crime. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The California Court of Appeals and a panel of the Ninth Circuit previously held that Sessoms' statements were too ambiguous; however the en banc Ninth Circuit held that the request for an attorney was clear from the meaning: Although it was couched in a polite and diffident manner, the meaning of Sessoms's request was clear: he wanted a lawyer then and there," Judge Betty Fletcher wrote for a six-judge majority.