Judges may cite to popular songs, books, or movies in their legal opinions for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s to enliven a tedious process. Sometimes, it is to rebuke a lawyer who did a poor job. Other times, though, these references are especially insightful and relevant to a specific issue. A recent Court of Special Appeals opinion opened with a quote from the popular lawyer drama Better Call Saul. The character in the quoted passage advises his listener that the time when people most need a lawyer is when “they find themselves in a little room with a detective who acts like he’s their best friend. ‘Talk to me,’ he says, ‘Help me clear this thing up. You don’t need a lawyer, only guilty people need lawyers’ and BOOM! … that’s when it all goes south.” While this passage is fiction, it does offer some very good real-life advice. The time to contact a criminal defense lawyer is NOT after you’ve waived your rights, started talking to the police, and said something that they potentially can use against you to incriminate you. The time to invoke your right to counsel and obtain a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney is from the very beginning of law enforcement’s questioning of you.
The recent court opinion quoting that TV show episode was one that focused on the very important process of invoking your rights when faced with a police interrogation. The case involved the murder by stabbing of a man in Langley Park. The police apprehended Mynor and took him into interrogation. Several questions into the process, Mynor said, in Spanish, a sentence that the police translated as “That’s all I have to say to you. And if you accuse me of something, I better want an attorney.” Despite this statement, the interview continued. The police even acknowledged at one point that Mynor said he “wanted a lawyer,” but the interrogation kept going. Eventually, the man made potentially incriminating statements. The state took the case to trial and obtained a conviction on second-degree murder.
The accused man appealed. His argument, essentially, was that he invoked his right to remain silent and also his right to counsel, that the police improperly continued the interrogation, and that the trial court wrongfully allowed his incriminating post-invocation statements into his trial.